Previews: 01 Aug 2019


Three by-elections on Thursday 1st August 2019. Later we cover two Liberal Democrat defences in local government, but first it's a Parliamentary Special:

Brecon and Radnorshire

House of Commons; caused by a recall petition against Conservative MP Christopher Davies, who had served since 2015.

O, let me think on Hastings and be gone
To Brecknock, while my fearful head is on!
- William Shakespeare, Richard III

A picture, so they say, tells a thousand words. Some pictures are, of course, more beautiful than others. This column has long maintained - sometimes multiple times in the same sentence - that the Welsh Marches rank among the most beautiful places in the world, and with pictures like these it's hard to argue against that proposition.

One person who clearly agrees with me is a man called Chris Davies, who got himself a new job in 2015 and needed a new office to go with it. He set his office up in Builth Wells, a small town on the Breconshire side of the River Wye, which in days of olden time formed the county boundary between Breconshire and Radnorshire. Builth isn't much more than a village but it's a major point of convergence, with the bridge over the Wye in the picture above being part of the A470 - the main north-south highway in Wales, meandering from Cardiff all the way to Llandudno through some of the most gorgeous scenery imaginable. All the normal things needed to be done to get the office going - buy furniture, kit the place out with a telephone line and computers, hire staff, all that jazz - but there was something missing. Some nice pictures of the local area for the walls. That'll make things complete for the staff and the visitors. Suitable pictures were found, prints were ordered and delivered, frames were hung and the office was complete. A snip at £700. And in the normal course of events that would have been that.

This, of course, is not the normal course of events. (Why do you think I'm writing this?) Chris Davies' new job was as Member of Parliament for Brecon and Radnorshire, and as such the House of Commons authorities gave him a pair of budgets: one to get his office established, and another to keep it running. All you have to do is keep an account of your expenses and make sure all the receipts and invoices are in order.

Which is where the problem came in. Instead of one invoice for £700 for the pretty pictures, two invoices totalling £700 were submitted to the parliamentary office which pays MPs' expenses. It became apparent that those invoices had been forged. The Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority called in the police, and Davies was charged. In March 2019 the case was heard by Westminster magistrates, with Davies pleading guilty to one charge of providing false or misleading information for an allowance claim, and a second charge of attempting to do so. The magistrates referred Davies to Southwark Crown Court for sentencing, and in the final reckoning he was fined £1,500 and ordered to undertake 50 hours of unpaid community service.

This is nowhere near the sentence level which would disqualify you from public office, although having that sort of criminal record is not exactly a good look for a Member of Parliament. However, the offence which Davies was prosecuted for triggered the Recall of MPs Act into action, and a petition was set up in the Brecon and Radnorshire constituency. Over six weeks, 10,005 of his electors - 19% of the total - signed the petition to recall Christopher Davies. As this was over 10% of the electorate, Davies was unseated and we are having this by-election.

It's rather a feat to get so many electors to sign on the line, for this is the largest constituency by area in England and Wales. The seat includes nearly all of the Brecon Beacons National Park together with many other upland areas. Agriculture is the major industry, and if sheep had the vote this seat would be an awful lot smaller in area. This is a constituency with no large towns.

Indeed, the largest centre of population here is a place whose name few people will recognise and even fewer will have any idea how to pronounce. Ystradgynlais is nestled in the south-west corner of Breconshire and isn't too far from Swansea down the Tawe valley; it's a town of around 8,000 souls which was called into being by heavy engineering, specifically the Ynyscedwyn Ironworks and the coal needed to run them. To this day Ystradgynlais is atypical of Brecon and Radnorshire as a whole: most of the seat's Labour voters and more than half of its Welsh speakers live here.

Rather older is Brecon, which goes back to the Roman days when there was a fort called Cicucium guarding a ford on the River Usk. The Normans also fortified the place, and the military men have never left. There is an infantry training centre in Brecon and the surrounding moorland, and the town's St Mary ward ranked 14th in England and Wales for Buddhism in the 2011 census: not because Brecon is a New Age type of place (it isn't), but because there are Gurkhas stationed here. Brecon is home to the regimental museum of the South Wales Borderers, seven of whose Victoria Crosses came at the battle of Rorke's Drift in the 1879 Zulu War.

After Ystradgynlais and Brecon you're starting to struggle for towns in Breconshire, but there's one place here that gets international prominence. Just on the Welsh side of the border lies Hay-on-Wye, a tiny town a long way from anywhere (Hereford, nearly twenty miles away, is the nearest railhead) which has become known as the "town of books" because of its extremely large number of second-hand bookshops. If you're looking for a book, you'll probably find it in Hay (although it might take a bit of finding); who knows, an edition of the Andrew's Previews books may even be lurking on the shelves there. A few years back your columnist went to Hay with a budget of £20 and a mission to buy election-related books: I came away with the 1939 (and almost certainly final) edition of The Constitutional Year Book, an almanac published by the Conservative Party up to the Second World War; and British Parliamentary Constituencies: A Statistical Compendium by Ivor Crewe and Antony Fox, which went into great detail on the results of the 1983 general election. Both of these have been useful in drafting this preview. Richard Booth, whose bookshop I got those tomes from, appeared in the latter book: he was an independent candidate in the 1983 election, coming last with 0.7% in the Brecon and Radnor constituency. Booth may have retired now, but his legacy lives on with an annual literature festival taking over Hay-on-Wye every May and June and bringing visitors to Hay from all over the world.

Half-an-hour's walk from Hay over the river Wye you come to Clyro, a sleepy village off the Hereford-Brecon road. For seven years from 1865 to 1872 Francis Kilvert was curate of Clyro's parish church, and his diaries give a great impression of what the area was like back then. Particularly so as the village is very little changed from his day: you can still see Kilvert's vicarage and toast his legacy in the village pub, then called the Swan, now the Baskerville Arms. Your columnist has stayed in the Baskerville Arms and can recommend it: tell them I sent you.

The River Wye forms the border between Breonshire and Radnoshire, but it's the Wye valley which links the centre of this constituency together, from Hay up to Rhayader. A tiny market town where the A470 comes to a stop sign at the town centre crossroads, Rhayader lies at the junction of the Wye with the Elan Valley, which was drowned in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries underneath five reservoirs which provide drinking water for the city of Birmingham. Birmingham's wastewater drains into the River Trent, so some of the water from these reservoirs ends up in the faraway North Sea.

Wales is, of course, known for its wet weather; but it was water that actually brought people to Radnorshire back in the day. The Happiest Place in Wales according to a survey last year by Rightmove, Llandrindod Wells is a Victorian spa town, the largest centre of population in Radnorshire, and the railhead for the Brecon and Radnorshire constituency. A Victorian Festival, celebrating its 34th year in 2019, brings tourists to Llandrindod each August; but it's administration which underpins the town's economy. Powys county council was established here in 1974, leading to a mini economic boom thanks to a mismatch between national local government payscales and the relatively low cost of living in mid-Wales. As well as all the usual stuff you expect from local government, Powys council has a surprising national role: it is the regulator for estate agents in the UK.

But the major single contributor to the economy of Brecon and Radnorshire is one event held every year in July at Llanelwedd, the Radnorshire village on the opposite side of the Wye from Builth Wells. Celebrating its 100th edition last week, the Royal Welsh Show is one of the largest agricultural shows in the world: it runs for four days and attracts 200,000 visitors, some of whom arrive on special trains laid on from Cardiff by Transport for Wales. The BBC film it. The Prince of Wales is a regular visitor. Speaking at the Show last week, the president of the Farmers Union of Wales warned of the possibility of civil unrest in rural areas like this constituency in the event of a no-deal Brexit; we wait to see what effect that warning had on the then-Environment Secretary and now-Brexit Supremo Michael Gove, who was also in attendance. The Royal Welsh Show is a huge affair, and is the reason this by-election wasn't held last week. Apart from the traffic chaos the event brings and the fact that many of the electors will have been at the show, the exhibition centres on the Royal Welsh Showground are the only location in the constituency which can comfortably accommodate the count.

Like the rest of Wales, Breconshire and Radnorshire were enfranchised by Henry VIII and have sent members to Parliament since 1536. Radnorshire has always been one of the poorest, most remote and most depopulated parts of England and Wales, and in the late nineteenth century - once the Liberals started contesting the county - that manifested itself in a close Tory versus Liberal contest. The 1885 election, on an expanded franchise, returned Arthur Walsh by a majority of just 67 votes over the Liberal candidate, marking a Conservative gain. Walsh, who was re-elected for a second term the following year, was an Old Etonian who at the time was a lieutenant in the Life Guards; he followed his father and grandfather in becoming MP for Radnorshire. Also like his father and grandfather, Walsh ended up in the Lords as the 3rd Lord Ormathwaite; once his Commons career was over he entered royal service, and from 1907 to 1920 he was the last Master of the Ceremonies in the Royal Household. Now there's a job title. (Marshal of the Diplomatic Corps is the modern equivalent.)

Walsh retired from the Commons in 1892 and the Conservatives lost his Radnorshire seat to the Liberal Frank Edwards. A solicitor by trade, Edwards was a major supporter of disestablishment for the Church in Wales, going so far as to resign the Liberal whip in 1894 (along with a very young David Lloyd George) in protest after the Liberal government failed to introduce a disestablishment measure.

The following year Edwards lost his seat for the first time, as the Conservative candidate Powlett Millbank defeated him by 79 votes. Sir Powlett, as he became after inheriting a baronetcy, didn't seek re-election in 1900 and Frank Edwards got back as MP for Radnorshire on a virulently anti-Boer War ticket in the first of four contests against the Conservatives' Charles Dillwyn-Venables-Llewellyn. The score in contests was 3-1 in Edwards' favour, Llewellyn's sole win coming by just 14 votes in January 1910. A keen agriculturist and local JP, Llewellyn was one of 22 MPs who served only between the two 1910 elections, as Sir Frank Edwards (as he had now become) won the December 1910 contest in Radnorshire by 42 votes.

Things were different in Breconshire, which had twice the electorate of Radnorshire and some industry - ironworking in Ystradgynlais, coalmining in Brynmawr. Breconshire was gained by the Liberals in an 1875 by-election after the previous Tory MP succeeded to a peerage, and was continuously Liberal-held from then until 1918. The winner of the 1875 by-election was William Fuller-Maitland, who had entered politics after a distinguished cricket career, bowling for Oxford University and the MCC to devastating effect: he took 123 first-class wickets at an average of 15.72, with his best analysis (8 for 48) coming for Oxford University against Surrey in 1864. Fuller-Maitland retired from the Commons in 1895 and passed his seat on to Charles Morley, older brother of Arnold Morley who had been Postmaster-General in the Liberal government of 1892-95. Morley retired in 1906, the year of the Liberal landslide, and passed his seat on without trouble to Sidney Robinson, a former Cardiff councillor and timber merchant.

At the December 1910 general election Radnorshire had under 6,000 electors (all male in those days) and Breconshire just over 13,000. This was too low to sustain two MPs, and the redistribution of 1918 resulted in the two constituencies being merged into one. Radnorshire's Liberal MP Sir Frank Edwards retired, and Breconshire's Liberal MP Sidney Robinson won the 1918 election unopposed for his final parliamentary term.

In 1922 Robinson retired and there was a new face as MP for Brecon and Radnor, with William Jenkins elected as a National Liberal. A merchant from Swansea in the coal and shipbroking business, Jenkins defeated the seat's first Labour candidate very comfortably and no-one opposed him in the 1923 general election. However, the 1924 poll saw both Labour and the Conservatives intervene, and a close three-way contest was won by Walter Hall for the Conservatives.

The first Conservative MP for Breconshire for almost half a century, Hall had come into politics from the military where he had served with distinction in the Great War - winning an MC and Bar. He served two terms as MP for Brecon and Radnor, but they were not consecutive. The 1929 general election here had a remarkable result: Liberal candidate Wynne Cemlyn-Jones came in third with 14,182 votes, Hall lost his seat by finishing second on 14,324 votes, and Peter Freeman polled 14,551 votes to become the first Labour MP for Brecon and Radnor. With just 0.7% of the vote separating first from last, and Freeman winning with 33.7%, that is one of the closest three-way splits you will ever see in an election. On the other hand... with the opinion polls as they are at the moment, a snap election held in the next few months might turn up a lot of constituency results looking similar to that. Fragmentation may be the new norm.

Fragmentation didn't help Peter Freeman much. The 1929 general election brought to power the short-lived Labour government of Ramsay Macdonald, which fell apart two years later and crashed and burned in the 1931 election. Walter Hall returned as MP for Brecon and Radnor, and Freeman - a former Welsh lawn tennis champion - went back to running his family's Cardiff tobacco factory. Peter Freeman did eventually return to politics, serving as MP for Newport from 1945 until his death in 1956.

Hall retired at the 1935 general election, in which Brecon and Radnor was contested for Labour by Leslie Haden-Guest, who had been MP for Southwark North from 1923 until 1927, when he resigned to (unsuccessfully) seek re-election as a Constitutionalist candidate. Now back in the Labour fold, Haden-Guest lost to his near namesake Ivor Guest, elected as a supporter of the National Government with endorsement from both the Conservative and Liberal local parties. Guest was a scion of a wealthy industrial family - the Guests were the G in GKN, which is still in business as an aerospace company.

Ivor Guest succeeded to the title of Viscount Wimborne and entered the Lords in 1939, resulting in the first Brecon and Radnorshire by-election. This time the Tories and Liberals couldn't agree a joint candidate, and the local Conservatives selected Richard Hanning Phillips - second son of Lord Milford - while the Liberals stood down. By now Haden-Guest was back in the Commons, having won a by-election in Islington North, and Labour needed a new candidate: they selected William Jackson, a Herefordshire fruit farmer and former Liberal figure. In an interesting echo of this by-election, polling day was 1st August - eighty years ago today - making this the last parliamentary by-election to be held before the Second World War. Labour's candidate selection made all the difference in this agricultural seat, particularly as Hanning Phillips knew nothing about farming and admitted as such on the campaign trail. Jackson won the by-election with a majority of 2,636.

After serving through the war years, William Jackson retired to the Lords in 1945, and Labour held the seat easily. The new Labour MP was Tudor Watkins who was Breconshire born and bred. A former miner from a village near Ystradgynlais, Watkins was general secretary of the Breconshire Association of Friendly Societies. In office Watkins saved the lesser whitebeam Sorbus minima from extinction, after his Parliamentary questions prompted the Army to stop using its only known habitat for mortar practice. Watkins was also a strong supporter of CND and the Parliament for Wales campaign.

In 1945 Tudor Watkins very easily defeated Tory candidate Oscar Guest, uncle of Ivor; Oscar had started his parliamentary career in 1918 as Liberal MP for Loughborough, and in the 1935-45 Parliament had been the Conservative MP for the unlikely Tory seat of Camberwell North West. For the 1950 and 1951 elections the Conservatives had stronger opposition in the form of David Gibson-Watt, a farmer and forester who came from a noted Radnorshire family and had won an MC and two bars in the North African and Italy campaigns during the Second World War. Gibson-Watt did eventually get into Parliament, winning the Hereford by-election in 1956 and serving until October 1974.

From 1955 onwards Tudor Watkins had safe majorities in Brecon and Radnorshire, and on his retirement in 1970 he had no trouble passing the seat on to the new Labour candidate Caerwyn Roderick. Like Watkins, Roderick had been born in Ystradgynlais; before entering Parliament he had been a teacher. In office he campaigned against future rail closures for the area and opposed a new reservoir that would have flooded the Senni valley.

But in February 1974 Brecon and Radnorshire swung to the Conservatives, against the national trend, and became marginal. Roderick could not withstand the swing to Thatcher's party in 1979, and he lost his seat. The new Tory MP was Tom Hooson, cousin of the Liberal MP Emlyn Hooson who had lost the neighbouring seat of Montgomeryshire at the same election.

Hooson's position was boosted by boundary changes that came in for the 1983 election. Not all of Breconshire had ended up in Powys at the 1974 reorganisation: two villages at the heads of the Valleys had transferred to Mid Glamorgan, and two areas became part of Gwent. One of those areas was Brynmawr, a largish mining town and significant source of Labour votes, which consequently transferred into a Gwent constituency (specifically, Michael Foot's seat of Blaenau Gwent). The effect was to reduce the electorate of Brecon and Radnorshire by around 10,000, with a big fall in the Labour vote.

That was reflected in the 1983 general election, the first contest on the current boundaries, at which the Labour vote fell by 16 points and Hooson made his seat safe. The Labour candidate David Morris (who would later serve as an MEP for Wales from 1984 to 1999) was nearly overtaken for second place by a young Liberal called Richard Livsey.

Tom Hooson died suddenly in May 1985, having suffered a heart attack, at the early age of 52. This prompted the second Brecon and Radnor by-election, held on 4th July 1985. As in the 1939 by-election the Conservative candidate was a poor fit for the constituency: Chris Butler was a former Downing Street staffer who at this point was a special adviser to the Welsh secretary Nicholas Edwards. He would later serve one term as MP for Warrington South from 1897 to 1992. Labour selected Richard Willey, a Radnor councillor whose father was the long-serving former Sunderland MP Fred Willey. The Lib Dem candidate was again Richard Livsey, a smallholder and former lecturer at the Welsh Agricultural College; Livsey was fighting his fourth parliamentary election, having contested Perth and East Perthshire in 1970 and Pembroke in 1979.

The result of the by-election was a victory for Livsey, who polled 36% of the vote against 34% for Labour and just 28% for the Conservatives. Livsey's majority was 559 votes, and this was the start of a series of very close election results in Brecon and Radnor. He held his seat in the 1987 general election with a majority of just 56 votes over the new Tory candidate, Jonathan Evans; it was the closet result of that election.

Jonathan Evans was reselected for the 1992 general election, and defeated Richard Livsey by 130 votes on an extremely high turnout (85.9%) in one of only three Conservative gains at that election. A solicitor by trade, Evans only served five years as MP for Brecon and Radnor but had a long political career nonetheless: he fought Michael Foot in Ebbw Vale in both 1974 elections and stood in Wolverhampton North East in 1979. After losing Brecon and Radnor he was an MEP for Wales from 1999 to 2009, then returned to the Commons as MP for Cardiff North during the Coalition years.

A majority of 130 votes was never going to withstand the landslide of 1997, and Richard Livsey returned as Lib Dem MP for Brecon and Radnor with a large majority. He retired to the Lords in 2001 and passed the seat on to new Lib Dem candidate Roger Williams. A livestock farmer and former chairman of the local NFU branch, Williams was a long-serving Powys councillor who had fought Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire in the first Welsh Assembly election in 1999, finishing fifth. Williams was run close in 2001 by new Conservative candidate Felix Aubel, but prevailed with a majority of 751. In 2005 he made the seat safe (the Tory candidate that year was Andrew R T Davies, who would later serve as leader of the Welsh Conservatives) and there was almost no swing in 2010.

That changed in 2015, when Roger Williams suffered an eighteen-point drop in his vote and lost his seat to Christopher Davies of the Conservatives. A rural auctioneer and former estate agent who ran a veterinary practice in Hay-on-Wye, Davies had fought the seat in the 2011 Welsh Assembly election before being elected to Powys county council in 2012. He resigned from Powys council after his election to Parliament, and the resulting by-election in Glasbury division (which includes Clyro) was gained for the Lib Dems by James Gibson-Watt (yes, of the Radnorshire Gibson-Watts). Davies increased his majority in 2017 with Gibson-Watt as his Lib Dem opponent, polling 49% to 29% for Gibson-Watt and 18% for Labour candidate Dan Lodge. Turnout, as usual for this constituency, was high: almost 77% of electors cast a vote. Just before the dissolution Davies had sent a survey to his electors in House of Commons envelopes, which was seen as political campaigning in breach of Commons rules; he was forced to apologise and pay for the cost of the envelopes. Christopher Davies was a member of the European Research Group of Tory MPs, although he had come around to supporting the Withdrawal Agreement by the end of the Brexit debates earlier this year; perhaps wise given the effect that no-deal EU tariffs would have on the sheep farming which underpins his constituency's economy.

The large swing from Lib Dem to Conservative has not, to date, been seen when Brecon and Radnorshire goes to the polls for the Welsh Assembly. Since the establishment of the Assembly in 1999 the seat has been represented in Cardiff Bay by just one person: Kirsty Williams of the Liberal Democrats, whose majority has only fallen below ten points once (in 2011). The most recent Senedd election was in May 2016, when Williams defeated Conservative candidate Gary Price 53-25; that left her as the only Liberal Democrat member of the Assembly. With Labour holding 29 out of 60 seats and short of a majority, Williams joined the Welsh Government after the 2016 election as minister for education and skills in a coalition executive.

This constituency covers slightly more than half of Powys county council, which had a majority of independent councillors until the most recent Welsh local government election in 2017. Within this constituency in May 2017 independents won 15 seats, the Lib Dems won 10 (including former MP Roger Williams, who gained Felin-fâch from the independents), Labour won 7 (including all four seats in Ystradgynlais and two of the three Brecon seats), the Conservatives won 5 and the Green Party 1 (Llangors, on an almost perfect three-way split: 173 votes for the Greens, 157 for the Conservatives, 155 for the outgoing independent councillor). Llagors may be a very unlikely-looking Green area, but it's the first Welsh division ever to elect a Green Party councillor. No candidates applied for Yscir division; in consequence nominations there had to be reopened, and the Conservatives won the re-run. The contestation pattern and the large number of unopposed seats (five of the 7 Labour divisions were won without a contest) mean that vote shares are pretty meaningless.

Which brings us up to date in a by-election that could have some impact on the Parliamentary arithmetic, which I shall put down in detail here because it's a bit difficult to keep track of what's going on. There are 650 MPs, of whom the 7 Sinn Féiners don't turn up, while the Speaker and his three deputies don't vote in any division. That gives 639 participating members meaning that 320 votes are an effective majority. The Conservatives are on 310 (excluding the Speaker and the Tory deputy speaker) and they have confidence and supply from the 10 DUP members which gives the 320 votes necessary. The opposition are 245 Labour MPs (excluding two deputy speakers), 35 from the Scottish National Party, 12 Liberal Democrats, 5 Change UK MPs, 5 "The Independents", 4 Plaid Cymru, 1 Green and 11 independents (6 elected as Labour, 3 elected as Conservatives, 1 elected as Lib Dem, and Lady Hermon) which is a total of 318 and gives the government a majority of two seats. Were the Conservatives to lose this by-election, that majority would go down to one.

If you want to vote for a politician with convictions, here's your chance. Convicted expense fraudster Christopher Davies is standing for re-election as the Conservative candidate. It should be noted that that the previous two Brecon and Radnor by-elections, in 1939 and 1985, both saw the Conservatives lose a seat they previously held partly as a result of poor candidate selections. Davies will be hoping to buck that trend.

The Liberal Democrats have been installed as runaway bookies' favourites for this by-election, although the bookies have been known to be wrong before (see Peterborough, last month). The Lib Dem candidate is their Welsh party leader Jane Dodds, a trained social worker and former Richmond upon Thames councillor who fought Montgomeryshire (where she lives) in the 2015 general election, 2016 Senedd election and 2017 general election. Plaid Cymru and the Green Party have stood down in her favour.

The Labour candidate is Tomos Davies, a Brecon town councillor, qualified barrister and litigation officer.

Three candidates complete a gender-balanced ballot paper of three men and three women (there has never previously been a female MP for Brecon and Radnorshire). Liz Phillips is standing for UKIP; although she now lives in Kent she has fought this seat several times before on the UKIP ticket, and before then in 1997 she stood here for the Referendum Party. The Brexit Party have nominated Des Parkinson, a retired police officer who was the UKIP candidate for Montgomeryshire in 2015 ad 2016 and for Dyfed-Powys Police and Crime Commissioner in 2016. Last alphabetically is local resident and saviour of the human race Lady Lily the Pink, standing for the Official Monster Raving Loony Party.

Constituency opinion polling isn't tried much in the UK these days; it's difficult to get a sample with such a small electorate, and when it was tried on a large scale in advance of the 2015 election it fell victim to the same polling failures that beset that election. One amusing factoid from the 1985 by-election here is that a lot of commentators at the time expected a Labour victory because most of their vox pops had been done in Ystradgynlais. Nonetheless Number Cruncher Politics, the political blog run by Matt Singh, has done an online poll of 509 electors in Brecon and Radnorshire (link) which had Dodds with a big lead: she was put on 43%, with Davies on 28% and Parkinson on 20%. Fieldwork was from 10th to 18th July, which was before the election of Johnson and Swinson as leaders of their respective parties. Singh deserves a lot of thanks (at the very least) for paying for this poll and contributing to the debate, and it's disappointing that a lot of media outlets (including the by-election article in Tuesday's edition of The Times, I notice) have reported the poll without seeing fit to even credit its source.

Things might have changed since the poll was taken, you never know. This may not be the biggest by-election of the year so far in electorate, but it's certainly the most anticipated. The returning officer is going for an overnight count, although given the size of the constituency don't expect a quick result. We'll know by breakfast time whether the Conservatives have pulled off their first by-election win (parliamentary or otherwise) of the Johnson premiership, whether the Liberal Democrats have achieved a baker's dozen of MPs, or whether something even more dramatic has happened. Whoever wins in the third Brecon and Radnorshire by-election, there will be lots to pore over in the result.

Oh, and just one more thing: have I mentioned that the Welsh Marches are beautiful?

All pictures used in this preview are from Wikipedia or Geograph and published under a Creative Commons licence. I shall supply my invoice in due course...

If you enjoyed this preview, there are many more like it in the paperback collection Andrew's Previews 2018, which is now available to order from Amazon (link). By buying the book you will support future previews like this.

Powys electoral divisions: Aber-craf, Beguildy, Bronllys, Builth, Bwlch, Crickhowell, Cwm-twrch, Disserth and Trecoed, Felin-fâch, Glasbury, Gwernyfed, Hay, Knighton, Llanafanfawr, Llandrindod East/Llandrindod West, Llandrindod North, Llandrindod South, Llanelwedd, Llangattock, Llangors, Llangynidr, Llanwrtyd Wells, Llanyre, Maescar/Llywel, Nantmel, Old Radnor, Presteigne, Rhayader, St David Within, St John, St Mary, Talgarth, Talybont-on-Usk, Tawe-Uchaf, Ynyscedwyn, Yscir, Ystradgynlais
ONS Travel to Work Areas: Brecon, Llandrindod Wells and Builth Wells, Swansea
Postcode districts: CF44, CF48, HR3, HR5, LD1, LD2, LD3, LD4, LD5, LD6, LD7, LD8, NP7, NP8, SA9, SA10, SA11, SY18, SY23

Christopher Davies (C)
Tomos Davies (Lab)
Jane Dodds (LD)
Des Parkinson (Brexit Party)
Liz Phillips (UKIP)
Lady Lily the Pink (Loony)

June 2017 result C 20081 LD 12043 Lab 7335 PC 1290 UKIP 576
May 2016 Welsh Assembly election LD 15998 C 7728 Lab 2703 UKIP 2161 PC 1180 Grn 697
May 2015 result C 16453 LD 11351 Lab 5904 UKIP 3338 PC 1767 Grn 1261
May 2011 Welsh Assembly election LD 12201 C 9444 Lab 4797 PC 1906
May 2010 result LD 17529 C 14182 Lab 4096 PC 989 UKIP 876 Grn 341 Chr 222 Loony 210
May 2007 Welsh Assembly election LD 15006 C 9652 Lab 2524 PC 1576
May 2005 result LD 17182 C 13277 Lab 5755 PC 1404 UKIP 723
May 2003 Welsh Assembly election LD 13325 C 8017 Lab 3130 PC 1329 UKIP 1042
June 2001 result LD 13824 C 13073 Lab 8024 PC 1301 Ind 762 UKIP 452 Ind 80
May 1999 Welsh Assembly election LD 13022 C 7170 Lab 5165 PC 2356 Ind 1502
May 1997 result LD 17516 C 12419 Lab 11424 Referendum Party 900 PC 622
May 1992 result C 15977 LD 15847 Lab 11634 PC 418 Grn 393
May 1987 result Lib 14509 C 14453 Lab 1210 PC 535
July 1985 by-election Lib 13753 Lab 13194 C 10631 PC 435 Loony 202 One Nation C 154 Ind 43
May 1983 result C 18255 Lab 9471 Lib 9226 PC 840 Ind 278

Hazel Grove

Stockport council, Greater Manchester; caused by the resignation of Liberal Democrat councillor Jon Twigge who had served since 2016. He is standing down to concentrate on running his business.

Our two local by-elections today are both defences for the Liberal Democrats. We start on the southern edge of Greater Manchester with a posh Stockport suburb. Hazel Grove is a rather diffuse area where the built-up area ends on the main roads from Manchester towards Buxton and Macclesfield, which meet at a triangular junction in the village centre. This was a busy junction in your columnist's experience, but may be a little less so now with the recent completion of the Manchester Airport Eastern Link Road, which runs along the southern boundary of Hazel Grove ward to terminate on a realigned Buxton Road.

This area was originally covered by the townships of Norbury and Torkington but by the eighteenth century had acquired the name "Bullocks Smithy" after a local inn. When a church was built in the 1830s to serve the area (which had previously been a nonconformist stronghold) the village elders had got tired of the jokes surrounding that name, and chose the new name "Hazel Grove" in an attempt to stop the rot. The name stuck.

The name stuck so well that Hazel Grove has given its name to a parliamentary seat since 1974. This has elected Liberals or Liberal Democrats on several occasions; the present seat, which also includes affluent towns like Marple to the east of Stockport, was Lib Dem in the Blair, Brown and Coalition years but was gained for the Conservatives in 2015 by William Wragg. Wragg is only 31 but is already in his second term as an MP, which shows just how fast-paced politics is these days. His first electoral contest came in 2010 in Hazel Grove ward, which was then safely Liberal Democrat, and Wragg built on that experience to gain the ward the following year.

The Tories gained a second seat in the 2014 election, but since the end of Coalition they have been on the defensive in Stockport. The Liberal Democrats recovered the Conservative seats in Hazel Grove in 2018 and May this year to restore their full slate; May's result was pretty decisive with 48% for the Lib Dems, 29% for the Conservatives (their worst performance since the current boundaries were introduced in 2004) and 11% for Labour.

Stockport council has been hung for many years and is presently on a bit of a knife-edge. Following May's elections Labour, who have run a minority administration for some years, and the Liberal Democrats were tied on 26 seats each, with the Conservatives (who are down to eight councillors after losing five seats in May) and the three Heald Green Ratepayers holding the balance of power. The Labour minority will continue until at least the next polls in May 2020, and the Lib Dems will want to hold this seat to give themselves the best chance of taking over the council following next year's elections.

Defending for the Lib Dems is Charles Gibson, a PR manager and brass bandsman with the Marple Band - which gives me an excuse to throw in the video above. The Tory candidate is Oliver Johnstone - "banker by trade, historian by vocation" according to his Twitter - who is not yet 30 but is already a former councillor for this ward, having served from 2014 to 2018. Labour have reselected their regular candidate Julie Wharton who is fighting Hazel Grove for the fifth time. Completing the ballot paper is Michael Padfield for the Green Party.

Parliamentary constituency: Hazel Grove
ONS Travel to Work Area: Manchester
Postcode district: SK7

Charles Gibson (LD)
Oliver Johnstone (C)
Michael Padfield (Grn)
Julie Wharton (Lab)

May 2019 result LD 1993 C 1225 Lab 457 UKIP 321 Grn 183
May 2018 result LD 1965 C 1810 Lab 553 Grn 132
May 2016 result LD 1777 C 1494 Lab 634 UKIP 534 Grn 120
May 2015 result C 2944 LD 2145 Lab 1208 UKIP 1027 Grn 294
May 2014 result C 1700 LD 1414 UKIP 692 Lab 488 Grn 208
May 2012 result LD 1736 C 1668 Lab 724
May 2011 result C 1918 LD 1789 Lab 892 UKIP 331
May 2010 result LD 3777 C 2697 Lab 884
May 2008 result LD 2345 C 1668 Lab 262
May 2007 result LD 2265 C 1647 Lab 298
May 2006 result LD 2281 C 1509 Lab 296 Ind 142
June 2004 result LD 2844/2835/2782 C 1919/1904/1709 Lab 592/439/395

Godmanchester and Hemingford Abbots

Huntingdonshire council, Cambridgeshire; caused by the resignation of Liberal Democrat councillor David Underwood. A former mayor of Godmanchester, Underwood was first elected in 2016 for Godmanchester ward and transferred to this ward in 2018. He was one of the country's few blind people to hold elected office.

From Greater Manchester we move to Godmanchester (stressed on the first syllable only, or pronounced Gumter if you're old-fashioned or the Leader of the House of Commons). This name has nothing to do with Manchester: it refers to a Roman fort ("chester") associated with an Anglo-Saxon called Godmund. The Roman fort was in a good location, defending the crossing point of Ermine Street, the Via Devana and the River Great Ouse, and a town grew up close to the southern end of the Old Bridge which connects Godmanchester to Huntingdon over the river. Until the twelfth century, this was the lowest bridge on the Great Ouse; and until 1975, when a new bridge was built as part of the Huntingdon bypass (now part of the A14), it was a major traffic bottleneck. The Huntingdon bypass is now itself a major traffic bottleneck being bypassed, with a motorway under construction to the south of Godmanchester to improve transport links between Cambridge and the west.

After losing its county status, Huntingdonshire has been a district within Cambridgeshire since 1974. It has a secure Conservative majority and a Tory MP (Jonathan Djonogly) to go with it. Godmanchester, on the other hand, is a quite recent Lib Dem hotspot. The old Godmanchester ward was Conservative from 2004 to 2012, but the Lib Dems broke through in 2014 after many years of trying and quickly built a large lead: Underwood was elected in 2016, the last election at which Godmanchester was a ward of its own, by the margin of 61-24.

The present ward has existed only since 2018, when the Tory-voting villages of Hemingford Abbots, Offord Cluny and Offord d'Arcy were added along with a third councillor. If this was an effort to improve the Tory position, it didn't have the desired effect: the Lib Dem slate won with 52% of the vote against 34% for the Conservatives. Huntingdonshire moved away from election by thirds in 2018, so the next elections in the district will not be until 2022. The three parishes in the ward are all in different Cambridgeshire county council divisions: Godmanchester is the major part of the Godmanchester and Huntingdon South division, which is safely Liberal Democrat, while the Offords are part of the Lib Dem-held marginal of Brampton and Buckden, and Hemingford Abbots is the safe Tory division of The Hemingfords and Fenstanton.

Defending for the Liberal Democrats is Sarah Wilson, a Godmanchester town councillor and wife of the town's county councillor Graham Wilson. The Conservatives have selected Paula Sparling, who was born and brought up in Rhodesia according to her Twitter and runs a business admin company. Completing the ballot paper is independent candidate and former Huntingdon town councillor Nigel Pauley, who fought the old Godmanchester ward in 2012 and finished in a close third place; in 2018 he stood as a Labour candidate for a ward in St Neots.

Parliamentary constituency: Huntingdon
Cambridgeshire county council division: Godmanchester and Huntingdon South (Godmanchester parish), The Hemingfords and Fenstanton (Hemingford Abbots parish), Brampton and Buckden (Offord Cluny and Offord d'Arcy parish)
ONS Travel to Work Area: Huntingdon
Postcode districts: PE19, PE28, PE29

Nigel Pauley (Ind)
Paula Sparling (C)
Sarah Wilson (LD)

May 2018 result LD 1396/1150/1030 C 911/654/627 Lab 383

Previews: 06 Jun 2019

by Andrew Teale of Andrew’s Previews

“All the right votes, but not necessarily in the right order”

Three polls today, but we’ll start with the most important one:


House of Commons; caused by a successful recall petition against Labour MP Fiona Onasanya, who had served since 2017.

Speed kills. Speed kills lives. Driving a vehicle over the speed limit is an offence, and with good reason. For as long as there have been motor vehicles there have been speed limits, with the intention of protecting other road users from the danger caused by driving at excessive speeds. A pedestrian hit by a car is more likely to survive the slower the car is going, and partly because of this there has been a trend in recent years towards lowering speed limits on Britain’s roads. In many cases such changes are supported by our elected representatives; campaigning for speed limits to be cut in residential areas or at accident blackspots is a cheap and effective way for our local councillors to attract publicity and protect public safety.

Speed also kills careers. This column has previously covered instances of councillors who campaigned for a speed camera to be installed in their patch, and subsequently being caught speeding by that very same camera. In most instances people who are caught speeding own up, take the punishment (speed awareness course, fine, penalty points, disqualification for the most serious cases) and life goes on.

This was not, however, the option pursued by former Liberal Democrat MP and leadership candidate Chris Huhne, who got caught trying to pin the blame for a speeding ticket on his wife and ended up behind bars for perjury. Nor did owning up to this offence seem a good option for a Labour backbencher called Fiona Onasanya. A solicitor of Nigerian ancestry, Onasanya entered politics in 2013 at the age of 30 by being elected as a Labour Party member of Cambridgeshire county council. In 2017 she sought the nomination as Labour candidate for the elected mayoralty of Cambridgeshire and Peterborough; although she didn’t get it, shortly afterwards she was selected as Labour candidate for the Peterborough constituency in the snap general election. To some surprise, Onasanya was elected as MP for Peterborough in June 2017, and a month later was reported as saying that she wanted to become Britain’s first black female prime minister.

Also in July 2017, Fiona Onasanya was caught speeding by a camera in Thorney, a village within her constituency. The Court heard that Ms Onasanya and her brother Festus told the police investigating that the car was being driven by a Russian man who had had the bad luck to be their tenant; however, police inquiries found that this Russian was in fact in Russia at the time of the offence. Prosecutions were launched – not for the speeding offence, but for the cover-up. Festus Onasanya pleaded guilty to three charges against him, and in December 2018 the jury unanimously found Fiona Onasanya guilty of one count of perverting the course of justice. Both Onasanyas were committed to prison, in Fiona’s case for three months. Ms Onasanya refused to resign her seat in Parliament and sought to appeal against the conviction; she appeared before the Court of Appeal without legal representation or notes. Remember, kids, she is a trained legal professional; don’t try this at home. The Appeal judges were not impressed, and on 5 March 2019 refused permission to appeal.

If Ms Onasanya had still been a local councillor (she retired from Cambridgeshire county council in May 2017) then that would have been the end of the matter. The Local Government Act disqualifies anybody who has been sentenced to three months’ or more imprisonment (including suspended sentences) in the last five years from being a councillor, and once the appeal was disposed off Onasanya would (had she been a councillor) automatically have left office and I would have been writing about a by-election in the second half of April in a very different political context. But until 1981, when IRA hunger striker Bobby Sands was elected to parliament from his prison cell in a by-election for Fermanagh and South Tyrone, there was nothing to stop prisoners being elected to Parliament or serving as MPs; the Representation of the People Act 1981, rushed through Parliament by the Thatcher government after Sands’ election, only disqualifies from Parliament persons who are or should be serving a prison sentence of one year or more. The Onasanya case raises an issue which needs to be looked at by Parliament sooner rather than later: if somebody sentenced to three months in prison is not fit to be a councillor, why are they fit to be an MP? Answers on a postcard to the usual address.

In those halcyon days when we had a strong and stable government running the country, there was an answer to this. The Recall of MPs Act 2015, one of the last pieces of legislation passed by the Tory-Lib Dem coalition government, introduced a system of recall petitions for MPs who passed some kind of misdemeanour threshold. We have already had one such petition, after the DUP MP Ian Paisley junior was suspended from Parliament for 30 days for not declaring visits to Sri Lanka paid for by that country’s government. The North Antrim recall petition failed to reach the target of being signed by 10% of his North Antrim electors, and Baby Doc remained as an MP.

Incidentally, your columnist has just come back from a week playing music with a military band in Northern Ireland. (Which is why this has had to be written in one day. Sorry if it reads like that.) One of our engagements was in Baby Doc’s North Antrim constituency, providing a music lesson/performance for the children of Bushmills Primary School. It was great fun and a good time was had by all. I hope that the children of Bushmills were inspired by our performance to take up a musical instrument.

While I’m on the subject of Northern Ireland it may be worth pointing out that residents of Great Britain would do well not to label its politics as peculiar. On my visit to Bushmills Primary School, there was a lamppost outside with a poster attached to it, that poster bearing a large portrait of and advocating a first preference vote for Jim Allister. The leader of the Traditional Unionist Voice party, a DUP splinter group which believes that the party sold out in going into government with Sinn Féin, Allister was runner-up in Northern Ireland’s European Parliament election two weeks ago and is a member of the Dormant Assembly and former MEP. Like Great Britain, Northern Ireland has severe political problems: like Great Britain, there is a sovereignty issue which dominates political debate above all else; like Great Britain, the province’s traditional political parties are being marginalised at election time by forces (like Allister’s) on the more intransigent sides of that debate; like Great Britain, the province’s government has effectively failed to function for over two years; like Great Britain, nobody appears to be in the mood to make the compromises necessary to get out of the mess and move forward.

Unlike Great Britain, in Northern Ireland all of this is bound up in the sectarian conflict between Protestantism and Catholicism. This war of religion has been going on for centuries, and in its earliest forms in the UK can be traced back to a row over one woman: Catherine of Aragon. Catherine had a luckless life. She was brought to England as a child from sunny Iberia as a bride for Arthur, Prince of Wales, son and heir of Henry VII. Had Arthur lived, history may have been very different; but he died in Ludlow five months after their wedding and Catherine found herself a 16-year-old widow. Worse was to come, as Catherine stayed on in England and subsequently married Arthur’s idiot younger brother. They had a daughter together, and then he dumped her for a younger woman; except that the Pope would not grant a divorce. Not getting the answer he wanted from his negotiations with Europe, and not being in the mood to make the compromises necessary to get out of the mess and move forward, Henry VIII chose the No Deal option and formed his own church, the Church of England, for the sole purpose of getting a divorce from Queen Catherine. We are still working through the consequences of that decision today.

Catherine of Aragon died in 1536 and lies in eternal rest in a spectacular building which gave its name to a city and has survived the centuries virtually intact. This building was located at a point where the River Nene enters the low-lying Fens, a rich agricultural area. The Romans had been here, with a major first-century fort at Longthorpe and a distinctive style of pottery called Nene Valley Ware, but the original church was founded in 655 by Peada of Mercia, king of the Middle Angles in a location called Medeshamstede. In the tenth century the church was fortified, creating a burgh – the Old English ward for a fortified place. There are lots of burghs around so disambiguation was needed: the patron saint of the church, St Peter, was added to the name, and “Peterborough” was born.

The modern Peterborough Cathedral dates from the twelfth century after the previous building was destroyed by fire in 1116. Its size bears witness to what was one of the richest monastic settlements in England, deriving its income from the agriculture of the Fens. As such it was an obvious target in the Dissolution of the Monasteries, and Catherine of Aragon’s ex-husband had the abbey shut down five years after her burial; however, religion didn’t stop here as Peterborough Abbey was converted, more or less seamlessly, into a cathedral.

Six years later the city which took its name from Peterborough Cathedral sent members to Parliament for the first time, and no Parliament since then has been without an MP for Peterborough. The city thrived partially thanks to its special legal status; while it was officially part of Northamptonshire it and its hinterland, the Soke of Peterborough, effectively formed a county within a county under its Lord Paramount, the Marquess of Exeter. The Marquess of the day objected to the railways coming to his seat at Stamford, and so Peterborough became a major railway centre instead, as a major junction on the East Coast main line to Scotland. Brickworking – many of London’s bricks came from Peterborough – became a major local industry, and Peterborough also in time became a centre for engine manufacture: by the 1930s Perkins diesel engines was the major local employer.

The city’s representation was reduced from two members to one by the 1885 redistribution, and that election pitted the two former MPs for Peterborough against each other: official Liberal candidate Sydney Buxton and independent Liberal candidate John Wentworth-Fitzwilliam. The fifth son of the 6th Earl Fitzwilliam, John Wentworth-Fitzwilliam had been an MP since winning a by-election in 1878 (when he was in his mid-twenties) and was the last in a long line of Fitzwilliams which had represented Peterborough almost without a break since the restoration of the monarchy. He defeated Buxton by 54% to 46%, a majority of 258 votes, in the first of a long series of close election results in Peterborough.

Like today, 1885 was a time of major political controversy over a sovereignty issue – in this case, Home Rule for Ireland – and Wentworth-Fitzwilliam was one of the MPs who broke away from Gladstone’s Liberal party to form the Liberal Unionists, who allied themselves with the Conservatives in opposition to home rule. This forced an early general election in 1886, at which Wentworth-Fitzwilliam was re-elected under his new Liberal Unionist colours with a slightly increased majority over the Liberals.

John Wentworth-Fitzwilliam died in 1889, aged just 37, after being thrown off his horse. The resulting by-election was a Liberal gain for Alpheus Morton, an architect and surveyor who was also a councilman of the City of London (he represented Farringdon Without ward from 1882 until his death in 1923) and was largely responsible for opening the gardens at Finsbury Circus to the public. He defeated the new Liberal Unionist candidate, Robert Purvis, on an 8% swing with a majority of 251 votes.

Purvis reduced Morton’s majority to 158 in the 1892 general election, and then got the better of Morton in 1895 with a 5% swing delivering a Liberal Unionist gain with a majority of 239 votes. (This wasn’t the end of Morton’s parliamentary career, as he was elected as MP for Sutherland in 1906 and served until 1918.) Robert Purvis was a barrister and supporter of “imperial preference”. He was narrowly re-elected in 1900 in a contest with a new Liberal candidate, brickmaking entrepreneur and former Spalding MP Halley Stewart, and was knighted in 1905.

Sir Robert Purvis was swept away in the Liberal landslide of 1906 by George Greenwood. One of the select band of MPs to have played first-class cricket (he represented Hampshire in a heavy defeat to Kent, scoring one run in each innings), Greenwood was a barrister and writer who had previously fought Peterborough in the 1886 election. In parliament he supported animal protection measures and independence for India, and served on the RSPCA council; at the same time he was also deeply involved in the Shakespeare authorship controversy, publishing several books which advocated the view that Shakespeare had not written the plays attributed to him (although Greenwood never named another author).

After Purvis unsuccessfully tried to get his seat back in the January 1910 election, the opposition to the Liberals in Peterborough passed from the Liberal Unionists to their allies, the Conservatives. Henry Lygon was selected for the Tories, reducing Greenwood’s majority to 303 votes. A son of the 6th Earl Beauchamp, Lygon was the half-brother of Lady Mary Trefusis (née Lygon), who was a friend of the composer Edward Elgar and is generally thought to be the subject of his thirteenth and penultimate Enigma variation.

At this time the Peterborough constituency was tightly drawn around the core of the city itself, and the Soke was part of the rural constituency of North Northamptonshire. The list of North Northamptonshire’s MPs is even more dominated by the local aristocrats. Brownlow Cecil, Lord Burghley, represented the seat from 1877 until he inherited the title of Marquess of Exeter in 1895, and at the general election of that year Edward Monckton was elected unopposed to replace him.

Monckton retired in 1900 and was replaced by Sackville Stopford-Sackville, who returned as MP for North Northants twenty years after losing his seat in the 1880 election; he was the great-grandson of George Germain, 1st Viscount Sackville, whose monstrous incompetence at both political and military matters had contributed to the loss of the American War of Independence. Stopford-Sackville had inherited Germain’s estate at Drayton House.

In the Liberal landslide of 1906 George Nicholls defeated Stopford-Sackville by 685 votes and gained North Northamptonshire for the Liberals. A smallholder and pastor, Nicholls stood for parliament eight times as a Liberal or Labour candidate but this was his only win, as he lost his seat in January 1910 in the Conservatives’ Hanry Brassey. Nicholls later served as Mayor of Peterborough from 1916 to 1918 and was involved in many agricultural and charitable bodies.

Henry Brassey came from a family which had grown rich thanks to the Industrial Revolution; he was a grandson of Thomas Brassey, a noted civil engineer who made a fortune building railways all over the world. At Thomas’ death in 1870 his estate was valued at £5.2 million; some of that fortune must have come the way of Henry Brassey, who bought the Jacobean Apethorpe Hall from the Earl of Westmoreland in 1904. Brassey was still young enough to serve in the First World War, fighting in the Northamptonshire Yeomanry and the West Kent Yeomanry and reaching the rank of Major.

The 1918 redistribution effectively merged the North Northamptonshire and Peterborough constituencies, to create a new Peterborough constituency which covered the whole of the Soke and adjacent parts of Northamptonshire (including Oundle). The Peterborough MP George Greenwood was by this time suffering from rheumatism and decided to retire, and Henry Brassey fought and won the new Peterborough constituency as a Conservative candidate with the coupon. He was, however, run close by the first Labour candidate for the area, John Mansfield. Mansfield was a trade unionist with the Amalgamated Society of Engineers, and later served as Mayor of Peterborough; a school in the city was later named after him. Brassey and Mansfield fought three more elections against each other, with larger Tory majorities on those occasions.

In 1929 Labour broke through in Peterborough, with Frank Horrabin defeating Brassey by 525 votes. Horrabin was a cartoonist and journalist who had co-written socialist books such as Working Class Education and The Workers History of the General Strike. His tenure as MP for Peterborough was brief, as the Macdonald government fell apart, and the Peterborough constituency swung a mile to the Conservatives in 1931.

The new MP for Peterborough was one of those people whose biographies seem unbelievable. David Cecil, Lord Burghley, was a gifted athlete who three years earlier had won the gold medal in the 400 metres hurdles at the Olympic Games in Amsterdam; he also won three gold medals (in the hurdling events and the 4 x 440 yards relay) at the inaugural Commonwealth Games, held in 1930 in Hamilton, Ontario. Burghley was also the first athlete to complete the Great Court Run, successfully sprinting 367 metres around the Great Court at Trinity College, Cambridge in the time it takes the college’s clock to strike 12 o’clock. The character of Lord Andrew Lindsay in Chariots of Fire was partially based on him.

Lord Burghley may have been an MP, but his athletics career was nor yet over and he was given a leave of absence from the Commons in 1932 to compete in the first Los Angeles Olympics, finishing fourth in the 400 metres hurdles and winning a silver medal as part of the 4 x 400 metres relay team. The following year he became a member of the International Olympic Committee, and in 1936 he as elected chairman of the British Olympic Association.

Burghley resigned from the Commons in 1943 to take up the post of Governor of Bermuda, giving him a curious distinction: he was the last MP for Peterborough to leave at a time of his own choosing. After the Second World War was over Burghley served for thirty years as president of the athletics governing body, the IAAF, and at the 1968 Mexico City Olympics he presented the medals to Tommie Smith and John Carlos in the ceremony which saw the “Black Power” salute. (Burghley is wearing red in the picture below.) By this time he had succeeded to his father’s titles, becoming the 6th Marquess of Exeter.

The Peterborough by-election of October 1943 took place during the wartime political truce but was nonetheless closely contested; Samuel Bennett, who had been selected as the prospective Labour candidate for the anticipated 1939 or 1940 general election, stood as an Independent Labour candidate. Bennett finished close behind the new Conservative candidate John Hely-Hutchinson, Viscount Suirdale.

Hely-Hutchinson was cut from a similar aristocratic stock to Burghley; he was the heir to the Earl of Donoughmore, and in 1948 succeeded to his father’s titles as the 7th Earl. In the Lords he became a prominent Freemason and colonel in the TA, and was kidnapped in 1974 by the IRA who held him for a week as a political hostage. He was also related to the composer Victor Hely-Hutchinson, who was appointed as the BBC’s Director of Music in 1944; both of them were descended from the 4th Earl of Donoughmore. Victor clearly didn’t end up with the family fortune, as he died during the notoriously cold winter of 1947 after refusing to spend licence fee payers’ money on heating his BBC office. Talking of bleak midwinter, this may be a good time to point out that there are only 201 shopping days until Christmas.

Hely-Hutchinson’s succession to the peerage didn’t cause a by-election, as he had lost his seat by 571 votes in the Attlee landslide of 1945. The new Labour MP for Peterborough was Stanley Tiffany, an electrical engineer and Yorkshireman who was a director of the local Co-operative Society.

Tiffany lost his seat in the 1950 election in the first of a series of nailbiting wins for the Conservative MP Harmar Nicholls. A non-practising barrister and chairman of Darlaston urban district council in the Black Country, Nicholls had fought with the Royal Engineers in India and Burma before demobilisation and fought Nelson and Colne in the 1945 general election and Preston in a 1946 by-election. He defeated Stanley Tiffany by 144 votes, increasing his majority to 373 in the 1951 general election.

Nicholls’ majorities then increased to more comfortable levels through the rest of the 1950s; his biggest win came in the Macmillan landslide of 1959 when the Labour candidate was a very young Betty Boothroyd. He was created a baronet in 1960. However, Sir Harmar’s win in the 1966 general election has gone down in the record books: after seven recounts (a figure never surpassed before or since) Sir Harmar was declared the winner over Labour candidate Michael Ward by 23,944 votes to 23,941, a majority of three votes. Don’t let anybody ever tell you your vote never changed anything.

That was the first of four faceoffs between Sir Harmar and Ward. There was another photofinish in February 1974, in which the Pizza Express entrepreneur and prominent local businessman Peter Boizot was the Liberal candidate; Sir Harmar held on on that occasion by 22 votes, but his luck finally ran out in October 1974 when Michael Ward won the seat with a majority of 1,848. That wasn’t the end of Sir Harmar Nicholls’ political career; he was translated to the Lords as Lord Harmar-Nicholls and later served as MEP for Greater Manchester South from 1979 to 1984. His daughter, Sue Nicholls, is famous to millions: she has played Audrey Roberts on Coronation Street since 1985.

During Sir Harmar Nicholls’ tenure as MP for Peterborough the city saw major changes. There was a large influx of immigrants from Italy during the 1950s, many of the Italians finding jobs at the brickworks. The area also saw two bouts of local government reorganisation, with the Soke merging with Huntingdonshire in 1965 to form a new county of “Huntingdon and Peterborough” which was itself absorbed into Cambridgeshire nine years later. The current Peterborough city council dates from 1974 and became a unitary council in the 1990s; as well as all of the old Soke, it includes Peterborough suburbs to the south such as Fletton which were formerly in Huntingdonshire, together with the fenland around Thorney which until 1965 was part of the Isle of Ely. Peterborough was designated as a New Town in 1967 and its population has grown strongly ever since; however, many of the New Town areas were south of the Nene and thus part of the Huntingdonshire constituency until 1983.

Michael Ward was the third Labour MP for Peterborough. A PR firm director, he had been a Havering councillor in east London and local government advisor. Like Frank Horrabin and Stanley Tiffany before him, he did not achieve re-election, as the Conservatives recovered the constituency in 1979.

The new Tory MP was Brian Mawhinney, an Ulsterman who had lectured on radiation in medicine before entering politics. During the Thatcher years Mawhinney slowly worked his way up the ministerial greasy pole, finally entering Cabinet in the accident-prone later years of the Major administration where he was first Transport Secretary and later Conservative Party Chairman/Minister without Portfolio. Mawhinney had large majorities during this period; in 1987 he saw off Andrew Mackinlay, the future Labour MP for Thurrock, by almost 10,000 votes.

There were major boundary changes for the 1997 election which pretty much created the Peterborough seat we have today. Strong population growth in Peterborough and the neighbouring Huntingdon constituency led to the Boundary Commission creating a brand-new seat of North West Cambridgeshire which took in the city’s wards south of the River Nene. This was correctly projected to be a safe Conservative seat, and Brian Mawhinney was re-elected there in 1997, leaving the revised Peterborough as an open seat.

In the Blair landslide teacher Helen Brinton was elected as the fourth Labour MP for Peterborough, defeating the Tories’ Jacqueline Foster (who later served as an MEP for the North West from 1999 to 2004 and again from 2009 to 2019) and the Lib Dems’ David Howarth (who went on to serve as MP for Cambridge from 2005 to 2010). In 2001 Brinton became the first and so far only Labour MP for Peterborough to be re-elected; later that year she married Alan Clark, a political reporter for the Meridian ITV franchise, and changed her name to Helen Clark. Two years later Clark captained the House of Commons team pictured below on a Professionals series of University Challenge: this rogues’ gallery of MPs lost very badly to a team of journalists which included a young man called Michael Gove. (Whatever happened to him? Answers on a postcard to the usual address.)

Clark lost her seat in 2005 to Conservative candidate Stewart Jackson, a prominent Brexiteer who is planted firmly on the right wing of the party. Jackson had previously stood in Peterborough in 2001; before then he was an Ealing councillor from 1990 to 1994, and served half a year as president of the University of London Union before resigning rather than face a confidence motion. In twelve years as an MP Jackson never got above Parliamentary Private Secretary in the ministerial ladder, resigning as PPS in 2011 to vote in favour of an EU referendum. He got back on the ladder in 2016 as PPS to the Brexit secretary David Davis. Jackson rather unexpectedly lost his seat in 2017 to Labour’s Fiona Onasanya, who prevailed by 48% to 47%, a majority of 607 votes; subsequently he became Davis’ special advisor.

Which brings us up to date. The recall petition against Onasanya succeeded, with 19,261 electors or 27.6% of the electorate signing it – far above the 10% threshold required. As a result, Onasanya was unseated and we are having this by-election. This is the first by-election precipitated by a recall petition, but it may not be the last; another petition is open at the moment in the Brecon and Rednorshire constituency, after Tory MP Christopher Davies was fined for submitting false expense claims.

The population of Peterborough has changed very rapidly in recent years thanks to extensive immigration from the post-2001 EU members; in the 2011 census Peterborough’s Central ward was ranked number 5 in England and Wales and Park ward was ranked number 8 for population born in the new EU states. Over 20% of the residents of Central ward (on the 2011 boundaries) had such a place of birth. Many of those people will not have the right to vote in a parliamentary election, where the franchise is restricted to British, Irish and certain Commonwealth citizens. Central ward also had a large Muslim population. The Peterborough district has seen a big population increase, but this has been concentrated in the areas covered by the North West Cambridgeshire constituency whose parliamentary electorate has grown by 23.7% since 2000; the Peterborough constituency’s electorate has actually fallen over that period.

This was one of the councils which the Conservatives lost overall control of in the May 2019 local elections, although the party is still running the city as a minority with the support of the Werrington First group. As can be seen from the map there have been ward boundary changes in Peterborough since the constituency was drawn up; the parts of Central and East wards outside the seat have no population, but the Peterborough constituency only includes half of Fletton and Woodston ward (a strange ward which straddles the Nene) and a small corner of Glinton and Castor. If we include all of Fletton and Woodston but exclude Glinton and Castor, then on 2 May Labour carried the constituency with 33% to 31% for the Conservatives, 14% for the Lib Dems and 8% for UKIP. Those local elections were held on the day after the six-week Onasanya recall petition closed, and since then we have had a European election on 23 May followed by this by-election. Given how busy she has been recently I hope that the Acting Returning Officer for Peterborough has a long holiday booked soon; she deserves it.

It’s exceptionally difficult to map European election results onto parliamentary elections, but since the European elections were only two weeks ago and fresh in the mind we may as well mention it. The Peterborough district as a whole gave 38% to the Brexit Party, 17% to Labour, 15% to the Liberal Democrats and 11% to the Conservatives, who beat the Green Party for fourth place by 31 votes. Figures for this constituency are not available.

Which brings us to this by-election which has a candidate list of 15. Fiona Onasanya was eligible to stand for re-election, but has decided not to do so. Defending for Labour is Lisa Forbes, who fought this seat in 2015 and – as is the case for several candidates in this by-election – was selected before the recall petition had succeeded. The party is almost certainly regretting that decision now, after the Jewish Labour Movement disowned her for anti-Semitism on social media. Ms Forbes is a former Peterborough councillor, serving for Orton Longueville ward (outside this constituency) from 2012 to 2016.

The Conservative candidate is Paul Bristow, a former chairman of the Linford Christie Trust who runs a business “helping charities and patients campaign for greater access to life changing therapies and technologies within the NHS”, according to his website. Bristow is a former Hammersmith and Fulham councillor, and in the 2010 general election he fought Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland.

Third here in 2017 were the Liberal Democrats, who have reselected their candidate Beki Sellick. She is an engineer working in the rail industry. The only other party to stand in 2017 were the Greens; they have selected Joseph Wells, who fought Gunthorpe ward in May and polled 4% of the vote.

The bookies’ favourite however is Mike Greene, a self-made man who in 2011 appeared in the Channel 4 series Secret Millionaire. Since then Greene has raised large amounts of money for charities based in Peterborough. He is the first parliamentary candidate for the Brexit Party.

Taking the other ten candidates in ballot paper order, first is Stephen Goldspink who fought this seat in the 1997 general election for the ProLife Alliance, finishing seventh out of seven candidates. Goldspink was subsequently a Peterborough city councillor for ten years, representing East ward for the Conservatives from 2002 to 2012; this times round he has the English Democrats nomination. Howling Laud Hope is the Official Monster Raving Loony Party candidate for the umpteenth time. Pierre Kirk comes hotfoot from the European campaign trail as the candidate of the UK EU Party; two weeks ago he was top of their list in London, polling 0.8%. Andrew Moore is standing as an independent candidate. Standing for the SDP is Patrick O’Flynn, an outgoing MEP for the Eastern region who was elected in 2014 on the UKIP ticket. Two Christian candidates with very similar names appear next to each other on the ballot, Dick Rodgers for Common Good and Tom Rogers for the Christian Peoples Alliance. Independent candidate Bobby Smith, a fathers’ rights activist, will be hoping for more than the three votes he got in the 2017 general election when he stood in the Maidenhead constituency against Theresa May; no doubt he’ll turn up to the count dressed again as Elmo from the Muppets. Peter Ward is the candidate of Renew, a pro-Remain outfit. Completing the ballot paper is a former Peterborough UKIP councillor who lost his seat to the Lib Dems in May, John Whitby.

Picture of Fiona Onasanya’s car speeding from the BBC; picture of the House of Commons University Challenge team from Sean Blanchflower.

Paul Bristow (C)
Lisa Forbes (Lab)
Stephen Goldspink (EDP)
Mike Greene (Brexit Party)
Howling Laud Hope (Loony)
Pierre Kirk (UK EU Party)
Andrew Moore (Ind)
Patrick O’Flynn (SDP)
Dick Rodgers (Common Good)
Tom Rogers (CPA)
Beki Sellick (LD)
Bobby Smith (Ind)
Peter Ward (Renew)
Joseph Wells (Grn)
John Whitby (UKIP)

May 2017 result Lab 22950 C 22343 LD 1597 Grn 848
May 2015 result C 18684 Lab 16759 UKIP 7485 LD 1774 Grn 1218 Lib 639 Ind 516
May 2010 result C 18133 Lab 13272 LD 8816 UKIP 3007 EDP 770 Grn 523 Ind 406

Ross North

Herefordshire council; postponed from 2 May following the death of Gareth Williams, who had been nominated as a UK Independence Party candidate.

There are two other elections going on today, both of which should have taken place on 2 May along with the other ordinary elections but were postponed after a candidate died. We start in the beautiful Welsh Marches with a town where the English tourist industry arguably started, with boat trips on the River Wye and views of the Wye Gorge and Black Mountains drawing visitors as early as the eighteenth century. Observations on the River Wye, a 1782 book by William Gilpin, is cited as the UK’s first illustrated tour guide. As well as the tourism, the town of Ross-on-Wye benefits from accessibility: it’s located on the main road from the English Midlands to South Wales, and is the terminus of the curiously-quiet and very picturesque M50 motorway.

Ross North ward was created in 2015 when the number of councillors for Ross-on-Wye was cut from four to three. The only previous result is from the 2015 election when the Conservatives beat the Lib Dems by 53-47 in a straight fight. The Tory councillor, Jenny Hyde, subsequently died in February 2019; as the May 2019 elections were imminent no by-election was held. Going into those ordinary elections the Tories had a majority on Herefordshire council, but their administration was very unpopular and the party crashed and burned in May; a coalition of independents, the Green Party and localist party It’s Our County has taken over.

Four candidates had originally been nominated, but with Gareth Williams’ death and no new candidates coming forward we are down to three. Defending for the Conservatives is Nigel Gibbs, who was Mayor of Ross-on-Wye in 2017-18. The Liberal Democrats have selected another former Mayor of Ross-on-Wye, former Herefordshire councillor Chris Bartrum. Completing the ballot paper is Melvin Hodges for Labour.

Parliamentary constituency: Hereford and South Herefordshire

Chris Bartrum (LD)
Nigel Gibbs (C)
Melvin Hodges (Lab)

May 2015 result C 833 LD 744

Wombourne South West

South Staffordshire council; postponed from 2 May following the death of outgoing Conservative councillor Mary Bond, who had been nominated for re-election. She had served since 2007.

We finish for the week at the southern end of Staffordshire. Wombourne is described as a large village, although with a population of over 14,000 “town” would be a better description; it’s located just outside the Black Country, four miles to the south-west of Wolverhampton. To some extent Wombourne is a Black Country centre which escaped the urban sprawl; it had a significant nail-making industry in years gone by, and since the Second World War a large number of people have moved here from the West Midlands towns and cities; particularly so in the 1950s when Wolverhampton Corporation built a large council estate in Wombourne. There is still some industry here, with a significant McCain potato processing plant located in the South West ward.

Wombourne is in the constituency of Gavin Williamson, whose brief recent tenure as Defence Secretary was far more lively than the village’s political scene. South Staffordshire is a strongly Conservative local government district and opposition candidates can be hard to find. Wombourne South West ward last went to the polls all the way back in 2007, when the Conservatives won both seats with 59% of the vote and the Lib Dem candidate was runner-up on 25%. Nobody had challenged the two Conservative candidates, Mary Bond and Mike Davies, since then. Further back in 2003 the ward gained some notoriety as Sharron Edwards, a former deputy leader of the British National Party, topped the poll as candidate of the shortlived Freedon Party; she didn’t seek re-election in 2007. The Conservatives also hold the local county division (Wombourne).

This election will be contested. New candidate Vince Merrick remains from the original Conservative slate; he is joined by replacement candidate Mike Davies, the county councillor for Wombourne and district councillor for this ward since 2011. It appears that Davies had originally intended to retire. Claire McIlvenna stands for the Green Party, Pete Stones is the Lib Dem candidate, and the delay to this poll has allowed Labour to nominate a slate of Adam Freeman and Michael Vaughan.

Parliamentary constituency: South Staffordshire
Staffordshire county council division: Wombourne

Mike Davies (C)
Adam Freeman (Lab)
Claire McIlvenna (Grn)
Vince Merrick (C)
Pete Stones (LD)
Michael Vaughan (Lab)

May 2015 result 2 C unopposed
May 2011 result 2 C unopposed
May 2007 result C 633/604 LD 274 Lab 175
May 2003 result Freedom Party 641 C 483/457

Andrew Teale

Labour hold Newport West with reduced majority - thoughts

Last night Labour held Newport West with an 8pt lead over the Tories, down from 13pts in 2017.

The by-election was held following the death of Paul Flynn, who passed away on the 17th February, after a long illness involving rheumatoid arthritis.

Paul had represented the constituents of Newport West since 1987, and had served as Shadow Welsh Secretary and Shadow Leader of the House of Commons under Jeremy Corbyn.

The result is broadly in line with what national polling has been telling us, insofar as both Lab and Con are seeing similar falls in support to the advantage of UKIP and, to a lesser extent, the Lib Dems; the rest of the fall in the case of this by-election eaten up by the arrival of small/new parties.

This, nationally, bodes omens that are marginally worse for Labour than the Tories – an election campaign with the current pool of support would be easier for the Tories to squeeze than Labour. UKIP’s moderate increase, in both the polls and Newport, offers a potential struggle for Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party. How many voters, in fact, know Farage no longer leads UKIP? 

The latest figures from our poll tracker, as of 30th March

Though Labour saw a 12pt fall in support, on the topline, little has changed. Nationally speaking, if an election were held today the House of Commons would be not too dissimilar to that of 2017: a hung parliament with the Conservatives as the largest party.

As you were.

By-Election Previews: 4th April 2019

“All the right votes, but not necessarily in the right order”

Two by-elections on 4th April 2019, and it’s a Parliamentary Special this week on Andrew’s Previews:

Newport West

House of Commons; caused by the death of Labour MP Paul Flynn at the age of 84. He had served since 1987.

You’re not from Newport
You’ve probably never been there either
I’ll bet you a fiver
You’re not from Newport
You’ve probably never heard of Pillgwenlly
Or been to Liswerry
– Goldie Lookin’ Chain, You’re Not From Newport

Well, your columnist has been to Newport, and Pillgwenlly has previously featured in Andrew’s Previews. In fact I have fond memories of the place. The UK leg of the World Quizzing Championships was held in Newport one year in the 2000s, and during that day I beat off all comers to win the prestigious and mysogynistically-named “Last Man Standing” competition, a Fifteen-to-One-style quiz featuring the cream of the UK’s quiz community, including several current and future Eggheads and Chasers. And some random twentysomething who kept his head down while they were busy eliminating each other. The question which won me the quiz asked which band had recorded the album The Man Who, so in tribute to that here’s the most successful song from that album, Why Does It Always Rain On Me?

A question which may be asked often by visitors to Wales, whose weather tends towards the wet side. Goodness knows what the Romans thought about that climate when they got here, but it didn’t put them off. The Romans built a substantial fortress at Isca Augusta which was named after the River Usk, a tributary of the Severn, and the Legio II Augusta who garrisoned the place until the end of the third century. Extensive Roman remains can still be seen there today. Caerleon, as the place is now known, became one of the centres of the Kingdom of Gwent, the major port on the Usk estuary and a place of legends; the twelfth-century Bishop of St Asaph and noted historical fantasist Geoffrey of Monmouth placed Caerleon as the capital of King Arthur. That in turn inspired later literature: Tennyson wrote some of his Arthurian output while staying in Caerleon, while another Arthur associated with the place was the mystic and author Arthur Machen, who was born in Caerleon in 1863.

But Caerleon never became great again. The Norman invasion of Wales led to administration from far-away Monmouth, and rather than fortifying Caerleon the Normans built a castle further down the Usk estuary at Newport. The Welsh name of Newport, Casnewydd, refers to that “new castle”. The original Newport Castle, a motte-and-bailey structure of which nothing remains today, was replaced in the fourteenth century by an imposing stone castle on the riverbank, and in typical style a town grew up around it. The castle was sacked by Owain Glyndŵr’s supporters in 1402 and never fully recovered from the experience; but like Caerleon, Newport did well from trade on the river and became sufficiently important to be represented in Parliament, as one of the towns contained in the Monmouth District of Boroughs.

But the Industrial Revolution changed the area forever. In 1792 Parliament authorised the Monmouthshire Canal Navigation to link the coal and ironstone mines in the Valleys to the Usk estuary at Newport; opened from 1796 onwards, the canal was fantastically successful and put Newport firmly on the map. The profits from the canal financed the building of extensive docks in Newport, to counter the Severn’s large tidal range. Docks continued to be added for over a century, and by the outbreak of the First World War Newport was said to have the most extensive docks in the world. That system included the world’s largest lock; giving access to the South Dock Extension, that lock was 1,000 feet long and 100 feet wide.

Not all of those docks survive today; those that do are in the Pillgwenlly division which is one of the most ethnically diverse areas of Wales (it has a large population born in the Middle East, and makes the top 70 wards in England and Wales for “other” ethnic groups and the top 100 wards for long-term unemployment). In order to link the docks with areas across the river without affecting shipping traffic, one of the UK’s very few transporter bridges opened here in 1907; the Newport Transporter Bridge is still in operation today.

That trade needs people to run it, and Newport greatly expanded in population in the 1830s. With those immigrants predominantly coming from England and Ireland, the town became majority English-speaking for the first time; and tensions grew. In 1839 Newport town centre was the scene of the last armed rebellion in Great Britain, led by the Chartists. The 1838 People’s Charter was a petition calling for such radical ideas as universal suffrage by secret ballot and a salary for MPs; this did not go down well with the authorities, and the Chartist leader Henry Vincent had been locked up in Monmouth prison for his efforts. Things came to a head with a full-scale armed riot on 4 November 1839, in which up to 5,000 Chartists attacked Newport’s Westgate Hotel where some of their sympathisers were rumoured to be imprisoned. The Hotel was successfully defended by 60 soldiers and 500 special constables under the command of the Mayor of Newport Thomas Phillips (who was wounded), and the ringleaders of the Newport Rising were subsequently the last people in England and Wales to be sentenced to be hanged, drawn and quartered. Following public pressure, that sentence was commuted to transportation for life.

Newport’s docks may have been extensive, but they were in decline well before the Great Depression got going. Things perked up on the employment front after the Second World War, as in the 1960s the large Llanwern steelworks commenced operation. Also in that decade the Severn Bridge and the M4 joined Newport to the UK’s motorway network. This was a two-lane motorway which in the event didn’t have the capacity as built to handle the traffic which materialised, as the M4 handles not just local Newport traffic but also longer-distance connections to Cardiff, Swansea and beyond. The Severn Bridge was relieved in the 1990s with the construction of what’s now called the Prince of Wales Bridge, but the Newport Bypass is a problem. It had to be widened to three lanes each way virtually as soon as it was built; but the twisting alignment, steep gradients and closely-spaced junctions, the fact that it ploughs through densely-populated urban areas and the presence of the Brynglas tunnels – a two-lane bottleneck – make further improvements to the route impossible. For nearly three decades the politicians have been talking about relieving the Newport Bypass by building a second motorway to the south of Newport – generally known as the M4 relief road – but to date nothing has come of all this talk. The Welsh government had been expected to announce in the near future whether to go ahead with building the road, but that announcement has been delayed until after this by-election is over.

Llanwern steelworks is much-reduced these days, and the government has moved to fill the jobs gap by siting a number of public-sector organisations in Newport. The Office for National Statistics and the UK Intellectual Property Office are based here, the Passport Office has one of its centres here, and Newport was briefly the home of the UK register of political parties (this register was established in 1998 and thus predates the Electoral Commission; before the Commission took the register over it was administered by Companies House). Insurance is also a major economic sector, with Lloyds TSB’s insurance division and GoCompare having their head offices in Newport, while Admiral Insurance also have a large office next to the intercity railway station. Newport was put on the international map by hosting the 2010 Ryder Cup and the 2014 NATO summit, both of those events were held at the Celtic Manor resort. The town’s major cultural exports include the rap collective Goldie Lookin Chain.

Now you need a certain sense of humour to appreciate the GLC: many of their songs are far too unsafe for work for me to put videos of them here or even list their titles before the 9pm watershed, and the band have caused several sense-of-humour failures over the years. In 2005 the Welsh FA had to apologise after inviting the GLC to perform in advance of a Wales v England football match in Cardiff, in which set they dedicated their song Your Missus is a Nutter to David Beckham while his wife was in the audience. One wonders what the Office for National Statistics makes of the claim that “Gun crime statistics are sometimes misleading” in the GLC’s number 3 hit Gons Don’t Kill People, Rappers Do, while the lyric in the same song “Politicians are shamed and they haven’t got a clue” sounds like a prediction of 2019 but might have caused some tension when Rhys Hutchings got himself elected to Newport city council. Yes, the voters of Newport really did elect Rhys from GLC as a local councillor: he was on the Labour slate in the 2012 local elections, and served one term before retiring in 2017.

Newport has a long political tradition; as stated it was part of the Monmouth District of Boroughs from the sixteenth century, when Wales gained representation in Parliament for the first time. Legal action arising out of the 1680 election, when Monmouth tried to return an MP without involving the other boroughs, confirmed that the electors were the freemen of Monmouth, Newport and Usk. From 1715 onwards this was a pocket borough controlled by the Dukes of Beaufort, and it didn’t see a contested election from then until the Reform Act; the 1832 election, on the new franchise, returned Whig Benjamin Hall, who later became First Commissioner of Works and may have been the Ben after whom the bell Big Ben was named.

Hall was succeeded as MP for Monmouth Boroughs by another Whig, Reginald Blewitt, proprietor of the Monmouthshire Merlin newspaper, who took over as Mayor of Newport after Thomas Phillips’ injury in the 1839 Rising. Blewitt also built up the ironworks at Cwmbran, but financial trouble forced him to leave the Commons in 1852. The resulting by-election was gained for the Conservatives by Crawshay Bailey, a prominent industrialist whose name has been commemorated in song:

Crawshaw Bailey had an engine
It was always needin’ mendin’
And depending on its power
It could do four miles an hour
Did you ever saw
Did you ever saw
Did you ever saw
Such a funny thing before?

Nobody challenged Bailey’s re-election afterwards, and he served until the 1868 election when he retired. After that the Monmouth Boroughs developed into a key marginal which flipped frequently between the Conservatives and Liberals and where majorities were often small: in the 1880 election the Liberals’ Edward Carbutt defeated outgoing Conservative MP Thomas Cordes by a majority of 61 votes, and a rematch between Carbutt and Cordes five years later saw Carbutt re-elected by 2,932 votes to 2,921, a majority of eleven. The 1900 election was gained for the Conservatives by Frederick Rutherford Harris, who was subsequently unseated by the Election Court for campaign spending irregularities; the Tories held the resulting by-election in 1901 with a reduced majority of 343. In the 1906 Liberal landslide the Monmouth Boroughs elected Liberal candidate Lewis Haslam, a very wealthy man from the Bolton cotton-spinning industry.

Monmouthshire did well out of the 1918 redistribution, which increased its representation from four MPs to six. As part of that process the Monmouth District of Boroughs was dissolved and Newport became a constituency of its own, with the same boundaries as the Newport county borough. Lewis Haslam won the first election to the Newport constituency in 1918 as a Liberal endorsed by the coalition government; in was a sign of things to come, Labour candidate John William Bowen, chairman of the Union of Post Office Workers, came in second.

Lewis Haslam died in 1922 prompting a famous by-election which changed the course of history. This was a time when the Lloyd George Coalition government was under severe strain, and the Newport Conservatives had already broken ranks with the national party by selecting a candidate for the next general election, civil engineer and self-made man Reginald Clary. The Liberal candidate selection exposed the strains in the party, and eventually produced an anti-Coalition candidate in the form of William Moore, the Newport coroner. Labour re-selected John William Bowen. The major issues of the campaign included alcohol, with the Liberals and Labour in favour of the Licensing Bill and the Tories against. Press expectation was that the race was a genuine three-way marginal with Labour best placed to win on 18th October; but when the result was declared, at 2am on 19th October 1922, the Conservatives’ Clary had prevailed with 40% of the vote, to 34% for Labour and 26% for the Liberals.

Nine hours later, at 11am on 19th October 1922, at least 286 Conservative MPs met at the Carlton Club in London to decide whether the Coalition should continue. The Newport by-election result was seen in the meeting as a rejection of the Coalition by the voters, and the Conservative leader Austen Chamberlain had come under attack from his backbenches over its continuance. The meeting debated a resolution that the Conservatives should fight the next general election as an independent party. Chamberlain and former Prime Minister Arthur Balfour were against the resolution, while Stanley Baldwin and Andrew Bonar Law – who had decided to attend the meeting only at the last moment – were in favour. The vote was 187-87 in favour of the resolution, and the Coalition government fell. Austen Chamberlain resigned as Conservative party leader, David Lloyd George offered the government’s resignation that afternoon, and George V asked Bonar Law to form a new government. Bonar Law immediately went to the country, and the 1922 general election returned a Conservative majority. And you thought Brexit was dramatic.

Included in that Conservative majority was Reginald Clary, who would go on to have a long career as MP for Newport, including defeating Labour’s John William Bowen three more times. However, Clary was out of the Commons for the 1929-31 Parliament after being defeated by Labour’s James Walker, a trade unionist from the iron and steel industry and longtime Glasgow councillor. Walker lost his seat back to Clary in 1931 but returned to the Commons in 1935 as MP for Motherwell, representing that seat until January 1945 when he was killed in a road accident. The 1945 Motherwell by-election resulting from Walker’s death was another famous one, as Robert McIntyre became the first MP for the Scottish National Party.

Reginald Clary died just 12 days after James Walker, at the age of 62. The resulting Newport by-election on 17th May 1945 was a more sedate affair; the wartime truce was still in effect and new Conservative candidate Ronald Bell, a barrister who had fought the Caerphilly by-election in 1939, won rather narrowly against opposition only from the Independent Labour Party chairman Robert Edwards. But Bell was the shortest-serving MP for Newport; the 1945 general election was called less than a week later, and with normal politics resumed Bell lost heavily to Labour on 5th July. He did eventually get a long parliamentary career, representing South Buckinghamshire and later Beaconsfield from 1950 until his death in 1982, and was heavily active in the Monday Club. The 1982 by-election arising from Bell’s death was contested on the Labour side by a young man called Tony Blair – whatever happened to him? Answers on a postcard to the usual address.

The new Labour MP for Newport was Peter Freeman, who was managing director of his family’s tobacco factory in Cardiff. Ironically a non-smoker, Freeman had been a gifted sportsman in his youth and won the 1919 Welsh tennis championship; ten years later he was in parliament, having won the Brecon and Radnorshire constituency in the 1929 general election. (In those days the Brecon and Radnorshire seat included Brynmawr and other mining areas in the Heads of the Valleys, making it a lot more Labour-inclined than it is now.) Freeman had lost his seat in 1931 and had previously contested Newport in the 1935 election.

In 1950 two sitting MPs contested Newport, with Freeman seeking re-election against opposition from the Conservatives’ Ivor Thomas, a journalist and scientist who was outgoing MP for Keighley. Thomas had been elected for Labour in the 1942 Keighley by-election; he was a junior minister at the start of the Attlee administration, piloting the Civil Aviation Bill through Parliament and also serving in the Colonial Office, but then crossed the floor to the Conservatives. The Tories put him up for election in Newport (near his birthplace in Cwmbran), but Freeman saw Thomas out of the Commons without too much trouble. In the 1955 election Freeman also defeated future Tory MP (Cardiff North, 1959-66) and stockbroker Donald Box.

Peter Freeman died in 1956 at the age of 67. The resulting Newport by-election on 6th July had a very well-known defending Labour candidate. The socialist credentials of Sir Frank Soskice were impeccable: his father David Soskice was an exiled Russian revolutionary journalist, while he was also related through his mother to Ford Madox Brown, Ford Madox Ford and Dante Gabriel Rossetti. However, Soskice’ career was in the law; he had been called to the Bar in 1926. After service in the Second World War Soskice was elected as Labour MP for Birkenhead East in 1945 and served throughout the first Attlee administration as Solicitor General, for which he got his knighthood. Sir Frank had rotten luck with the Boundary Commission; his Birkenhead East seat was abolished in the 1950 redistribution and he lost re-election in Bebington that year. A by-election was quickly engineered in Sheffield Neepsend to allow Sir Frank to return to the Commons, and Attlee promoted him to Attorney General; but the Sheffield Neepsend constituency was itself abolished in the 1955 redistribution, leaving Sir Frank with no political home until the Newport vacancy turned up. Donald Cox returned as Conservative candidate for the by-election and Plaid Cymru contested the seat for the first time: their candidate was Emrys Roberts, who later served as general secretary of the party and was leader of Merthyr Tydfil council from 1976 to 1979. Unlike the previous two Newport by-elections, this one was not a game-changer: Sir Frank Soskice increased the Labour majority.

In the 1964 election Sir Frank Soskice easily defeated Tory candidate Peter Temple-Morris (who would go on to be a long-serving MP for Leominster, defecting to Labour during the 1997 Parliament) and was appointed Home Secretary in the new Wilson government. This is always a difficult position to hold and Sir Frank did not impress, with poor health adding to more difficulties with the Boundary Commission and a difficult passage for the Race Relations Act. In 1965 Wilson moved Sir Frank to his final Cabinet post as Lord Privy Seal. Soskice retired to the Lords in 1966, taking the title Lord Stow Hill after the steep road connecting Newport city centre to St Woolos Cathedral.

By new Newport was a safe Labour constituency and their new candidate Roy Hughes had no trouble taking over Sockice’ seat. Hughes had started his career down the pits in Monmouthshire at 15 while completing grammar school, and served in the Welch Regiment during the Second World War; after the war he had been a manager at Standard Motors in Coventry, a Coventry city councillor and a TGWU officer. He had a long Parliamentary career, retiring to the Lords at the 1997 election as Lord Islwyn.

Hughes’ constituency by then was Newport East; the 1983 redistribution had seen major changes in Wales and one of those was that Newport was divided into two seats. The dividing line is very intuitive: Newport West includes everything in Newport to the west of the River Usk, plus the Christchurch area and the Celtic Manor resort which for some reason are in the same electoral division as Caerleon. The constituency has had unchanged boundaries ever since.

It has not had unchanged political representation. The boundary changes diluted the Labour strength: the western half of Newport is weaker for Labour than the eastern half, and the seat also gained the Tory-voting villages on the coastal strip between Newport and Cardiff which had previously been a detached part of the Monmouth constituency. Nonetheless this was an open seat and a good Labour nomination to go for, and the nomination was won by Bryan Davies, secretary of the Parliamentary Labour Party. A former history teacher and lecturer, Davies had been MP for the London constituency of Enfield North from February 1974 but had lost his seat to the Conservatives in 1979. He was up against Tory candidate Mark Robinson. From a business and sporting family (his father John Robinson ran a paper and packaging company and had served as High Sheriff of Avon, his grandfather Sir Foster Robinson had been captain of the Gloucestershire cricket team), Robinson had made his career in international organisations, working for the United Nations for six years and for the Commonwealth for another six.

Robinson won the new seat, defeating Labour by 38% to 37% with 24% for the Liberals, a majority of 581 votes. That wasn’t the end of Davies’ political career though: he returned to the Commons for the 1992-97 term as MP for Oldham Central and Royton, and was later Government Deputy Chief Whip in the Lords from 2003 to 2010. Mark Robinson started his parliamentary career on the Foreign Affairs select committee before joining Government in 1985 in the Welsh Office. He lost his seat in 1987, but returned in the 1992-97 term as MP for Somerton and Frome.

Mark Robinson increased the Conservative vote in the 1987 general election; but Labour increased their vote by more and gained the seat. The new MP was Paul Flynn who had represented Newport West ever since. Flynn was born in Cardiff in 1935, one of five children; his father, a postman, died when Flynn was five years old. In 1955 he started work in the steel industry as a chemist; after being made redundant in 1983 he briefly became a broadcaster before finding work the following year as a researcher for Labour MEP Llew Smith. He was a Newport councillor from 1972 to 1981, a Gwent county councillor from 1974 to 1982, and had fought Denbigh in the October 1974 general election.

In office Flynn quickly joined the frontbenches as an opposition spokesman on health and social security; but he resigned from that position in 1990 and spent most of his Parliamentary career on the backbenches. Until 2016, that is, when Jeremy Corbyn briefly ran out of people who were prepared to serve under him in the Shadow Cabinet following the EU referendum result and a no-confidence vote supported by 80% of his MPs; Flynn joined the Shadow Cabinet for the first time in July 2016 as shadow Leader of the Commons and shadow Welsh secretary at the age of 81,. At the time, he was reported at the time to have been the oldest frontbencher since Gladstone. He returned to the backbenches in October that year.

Away from the Commons Flynn had served as chairman of the Broadcasting Council for Wales, and was a fluent Welsh speaker and member of the Gorsedd of Bards. He had written several books on television and politics and was also an early adopter of the internet, being one of the first MPs to communicate with his constituents by email. Flynn’s website was regularly voted as the best MP’s website.

Flynn had suffered from rheumatoid arthritis for all his adult life, and in late 2018 announced that he was bed-bound and keen to retire from the Commons; however, he wished to avoid a by-election if possible. As a lifelong pro-European, he was keen to vote against the government’s withdrawal agreement and pledged to do so even if he had to be stretchered into the Commons; however, in the first Meaningful Vote on 15th January 2019 Flynn was the only MP (other than the Speaker, his deputies, the tellers and Sinn Féin, who all have excuses) who did not vote in the 202-432 defeat of the government. Flynn died a month later on 17th February 2019, aged 84. He had hoped that his epitaph would be a phrase originally used to describe him by the sketchwriter Simon Hoggart: “the thinking man’s Dennis Skinner”.

Paul Flynn had been re-elected in 2017 for an eighth term of office as the second-oldest MP after Skinner; Ann Clwyd, who turned 82 last month, now takes over that position. (The oldest Conservative MPs currently serving are Sir Bill Cash and Kenneth Clarke, both of whom are aged 78.) In June 2017 he had beaten the Conservatives by 52% to 39%, a majority of 5,658 votes, with no other candidates saving their deposit; that was an improvement on the 2015 and 2010 elections when his seat was marginal between Labour and the Conservatives.

Newport West has consistently returned Labour members to the Senedd in Cardiff. From 1999 to 2016 its AM was Dame Rosemary Butler, who served as the Welsh Government’s first education secretary from 1999 to 2000 and was the Senedd’s Presiding Officer from 2011 to 2016. In 2016 Dame Rosemary retired and handed over her seat to Jayne Bryant, who had been runner-up in the 2014 European Parliament election as the second-placed candidate on the Labour list for Wales. Butler’s majority had fallen to just 1,401 in the 2007 Assembly election, but Bryant had a healthier lead of 4,115 votes in the 2016 poll; she had 44% of the vote, to 29% for the Conservatives and 14% for UKIP.

By contrast, the results from the 2017 Newport council election (held five weeks before the snap general election) suggest that Labour have a fight on their hands to hold this seat. Across the twelve electoral divisions covered by the constituency Labour polled 36% of the vote, with the Conservatives close behind on 35% and a localist slate (the Newport Independents Party) polling 13% and carrying Bettws division. This is one of those cases where the seat count (16 councillors for Labour, nine Conservatives and four seats for the Newport Independents Party) is deceptive. On the other hand, Bettws is a very working-class area (it makes the top 75 wards in England and Wales for “semi-routine” occupations) so Labour can expect to do better there at parliamentary level. Hopefully this by-election will do better in the turnout stakes than the Police and Crime Commissioner elections in November 2012, when one of Bettws’ ballot boxes reportedly had no votes in it at all.

Flynn’s announcement last year that he intended to resign gave the local parties plenty of notice to select candidates, and Labour have had a defending candidate in place since January. She is Ruth Jones, a local resident, NHS physiotherapist and former president of the Welsh TUC who fought Monmouth in the 2015 and 2017 general elections.

The Tories have selected Matthew Evans, a former Mayor of Newport and leader of the Conservative group on Newport city council. He represents and lives in the affluent Allt-yr-yn division, and fought this constituency in the 2016 Welsh Assembly election.

UKIP will be looking to defend their third place from 2017 with a candidate who has, well, name recognition. Neil Hamilton was the Conservative MP for Tatton from 1983 to 1997, getting involved in all sorts of controversies and legal trouble (the failure of one libel action against the Guardian prompted that newspaper to fill their front page with a photograph of Hamilton headlined “A liar and a cheat”). After managing the deeply-impressive feat of losing the safest Tory seat in Cheshire at the 1997 general election, Hamilton had a brief career as a TV personality before finding a new political home in UKIP. In the 2016 Welsh Assembly elections Hamilton was elected from the UKIP list for the Mid and West Wales region, and from 2016 to 2018 he was leader of the UKIP group in the Senedd – although the statement of persons nominated for this by-election reveals that he lives in Wiltshire. This isn’t Hamilton’s first go at being elected to Parliament for a Gwent constituency: he was the Conservative candidate for Abertillery in the February 1974 general election. His description on the ballot paper is “UKIP Make Brexit Happen”, which was a gamble at the time his nomination went in (the deadline was 8th March) but would appear to have been vindicated by subsequent events.

Plaid Cymru have rarely troubled the scorers in Newport West; they have saved their deposit in only one of the Westminster elections since this seat was drawn up. In 1992 they fielded a joint candidate with the Green Party as part of an electoral pact in Gwent, to little discernible effect. Their candidate this time is Jonathan Clark, who has fought Monmouth five times at Westminster or Senedd level but lives in this constituency.

Fifth here in 2017 were the Liberal Democrats, who have selected Ryan Jones. A local resident, Mr Jones runs a construction business which employs 30 people in Newport.

The Greens were sixth and last in this constituency two years ago, and like UKIP they have selected a candidate with a national profile. Local resident Amelia Womack is deputy leader of the Green Party of England and Wales; she fought Camberwell and Peckham in the 2015 general election and Cardiff Central in the 2016 Assembly election, where she was top of the Green Party list in South Wales Central.

This being a parliamentary by-election, there are a lot of other also-rans. First of them alphabetically is June Davies who is the candidate for Renew, a centrist party firmly on the Remain side of the political divide. All the remaining candidates would appear to be Leavers in some form or another. Ian McLean is standing for the Social Democratic Party, which these days is a very different beast from the SDP founded by the Gang of Four all those years ago; the SDP of our time is a very anti-EU group. Hugh Nicklin is the candidate of the For Britain Movement. Richard Suchorzewski, who was runner-up behind Nigel Farage in the 2006 UKIP leadership election, is standing for the Abolish the Welsh Assembly Party, and the Democrats and Veterans Party have selected Phillip Taylor who completes a ballot paper of eleven candidates.

So, how can we characterise this Newport by-election? Will it be like the one in 1922, which led to the fall of a government? Will it be like the one in 1945, which was reversed within weeks by a general election? Will it be like the one in 1956, which confirmed the status quo? Who knows. But I’ll finish this preview as I started it, with the GLC who wrote a tribute song to the late Paul Flynn MP; unlike most of their output it’s safe for work, and you can listen to it here.

Newport council divisions: Allt-yr-yn, Bettws, Caerleon, Gaer, Graig, Malpas, Marshfield, Pillgwenlly, Rogerstone, Shaftesbury, Stow Hill, Tredegar Park
ONS Travel to Work Area: Newport
Postcode districts: CF3, NP10, NP18, NP19, NP20

Jonathan Clark (PC)
June Davies (Renew)
Matthew Evans (C)
Neil Hamilton (UKIP)
Ruth Jones (Lab)
Ryan Jones (LD)
Ian McLean (SDP)
Hugh Nicklin (For Britain Movement)
Richard Suchorzewski (Abolish the Welsh Assembly)
Phillip Taylor (Democrats and Veterans)
Amelia Womack (Grn)

June 2017 result Lab 22723 C 17065 UKIP 1100 PC 1077 LD 976 Grn 497
May 2016 Welsh Assembly result Lab 12157 C 8042 UKIP 3842 PC 1645 LD 880 Grn 814 Ind 333 Cymru Sovereign 38
May 2015 result Lab 16633 C 13123 UKIP 6134 PC 1604 LD 1581 Grn 1272
May 2011 Welsh Assembly result Lab 12011 C 7791 PC 1626 LD 1586
May 2010 result Lab 16389 C 12845 LD 6587 NBP 1183 UKIP 1144 PC 1122 Grn 450
May 2007 Welsh Assembly result Lab 9582 C 8181 LD 2813 PC 2449 EDP 634
May 2005 result Lab 16021 C 10563 LD 6398 PC 1278 UKIP 848 Grn 540 Ind 84
May 2003 Welsh Assembly result Lab 10053 C 6301 LD 2094 PC 1678 UKIP 1102 Socialist Alliance 198
June 2001 result Lab 18489 C 9185 LD 4095 PC 2510 UKIP 506 BNP 278
May 1999 result Lab 11538 C 6828 PC 3053 LD 2820
May 1997 result Lab 24331 C 9794 LD 3907 Referendum Party 1199 PC 648 UKIP 321
April 1992 result Lab 24139 C 16360 LD 4296 PC/Grn 653
June 1987 result Lab 20887 C 18179 Lib 5903 PC 377
June 1983 result C 15948 Lab 15367 Lib 10163 PC 477


Norfolk county council; caused by the resignation of Conservative councillor Tom Garrod who had served since 2013.

A quick note on the only local council by-election taking place today. We’re in what’s sometimes called the capital of the Norfolk Broads, the village of Wroxham some miles to the north-east of Norwich; this is one of the more accessible parts of the Broads to outside visitors in that it still has a railway station, Hoveton and Wroxham on the Norwich-Sheringham line. The village anchors a county division which runs for some distance along the south bank of the River Bure, from Upton at the eastern end to the musically-named Great Hautbois at the northern end. The area was important in the Second World War as the home of RAF Coltishall, an airbase for fighter aircraft which operated until 2006; part of the RAF base is now occupied by HMP Bure, a prison mainly housing sex offenders.

Prisoners, of course, are not eligible to vote. Those who do vote in this division tend to vote Conservative; this is a safe Tory division where Tom Garrod beat the Liberal Democrat candidate 59-20 in the 2017 Norfolk county council elections. We are just four weeks away from the next elections for the local district council, Broadland; in the 2015 Broadland elections the Conservatives won all the district council seats within the division, and a by-election in Coltishall ward on the snap general election day in 2017 was an easy Conservative hold.

Defending for the Tories is Fran Whymark, who has been a district councillor for the Wroxham ward of Broadland council since winning a by-election in 2014. The Lib Dems have reselected Stephen Heard, who finished as runner-up here in 2017 as a Lib Dem and in 2013 as an independent candidate. Also standing are Julia Wheeler for Labour and Jan Davis for the Green Party.

Parliamentary constituency: Broadland
Broadland council wards: Blofield with South Walsham (part: Hemblington, South Walsham, Upton with Fishley and Woodbastick parishes), Coltishall, Wroxham
ONS Travel to Work Area: Norwich
Postcode districts: NR10, NR12, NR13

Jan Davis (Grn)
Stephen Heard (LD)
Julia Wheeler (Lab)
Fran Whymark (C)

May 2017 result C 1744 LD 588 Lab 315 Grn 162 UKIP 148
May 2013 result C 908 Ind 550 UKIP 543 LD 533 Lab 315
June 2009 result C 1788 Grn 603 LD 485 Lab 291
May 2005 result C 2096 Ind 1226 Lab 948 LD 863 Grn 224

Previewing the Lewisham East by-election

The Lewisham East by-election, a preview

House of Commons; caused by the resignation of Labour MP Heidi Alexander, who had served since 2010.

by Andrew Teale, 14 Jun 2018

Fifty-three weeks on from the snap general election and we come to the second parliamentary by-election of the 2017 Parliament, and the first in Great Britain. It’s also the first time in six months that Andrew’s Previews has had cause to visit London, as every councillor in the 32 London Boroughs was up for re-election last May so there have not been any by-elections in the capital so far this year. With your columnist being based in that unusually sunny part of the world (for the moment, touch wood), Greater Manchester, London was not high up my list of things to write about regarding the 2018 local elections, and I managed to deliver multiple pieces to Britain Elects on those polls without mentioning the capital once. Would that some commentators could have done likewise. Nevertheless it is legitimately London’s turn for the limelight this week.

General election vote share:

London has always been a cosmopolitan city, and the name Lewisham refers to an immigrant of an earlier age: a man from Jutland called Leof or Leofsa, who came over in the Jutish invasion of the late fourth century (or later) and made his home here. As did so many others in the last century and a half. Leof’s home – Lewisham – was still a rural area until the railway came in the 1840s, encouraging the rapid development of commuter housing in a district just six or seven miles from Charing Cross; in those days the area now covered by this constituency was part of Kent, before being incorporated into the County of London on its creation in 1889.

When the Metropolitan Borough of Lewisham was created in that year much of its area was still farmland, but the gaps were progressively filled in. The East constituency’s housing stock still predominantly dates from the nineteenth century; and by the 1930s, with the completion of the London County Council’s Downham estate, there was no more room left. The Downham estate still occupies much of the southern end of this constituency: developed in the late 1920s, it was considered a showpiece estate and described by Lewisham council as a “garden city”. Much of the estate’s original population was working-class people rehoused from substandard housing in places such as Rotherhithe and the East End, to the disgust of locals over the county boundary in Bromley who went so far as to build a wall to keep the riff-raff out. History doesn’t record whether Lewisham paid for the wall.

Further in is the constituency’s main commercial centre, Catford. Despite there being a large fibreglass sculpture of a cat here, the name actually refers to a cattle ford on the River Ravensbourne. Lewisham council is based in Catford, and is overseeing extensive redevelopment of the town centre.

To the east lie the railway suburbs of Grove Park and Hither Green, together with Lee which was one of the two parishes which merged to create Lewisham borough in 1889. Karl Marx lived in Lee for a time, and at the northern end of the seat is another area which, although for many years it has been the most affluent part of this constituency, has a radical political history. The Peasant’s Revolt of 1381, Jack Cade’s rebellion of 1450 and the Cornish rebellion of 1497 all mustered at Blackheath. It’s easy to see why. To this day Blackheath is an area of high ground and open space with excellent communications: the Roman Watling Street and the modern A2 pass over the heath on the way to Canterbury and the Channel Ports, leading to the area being a haunt of highwaymen in the eighteenth century. If the Nazi Operation Sealion had ever come to fruition, Blackheath would have been the last line of defence before London.

The open space of Blackheath and easy distance from London led to strong associations with sport. By tradition this was the first place that golf was played in England; Kent played several first-class cricket matches on the heath in the eighteenth century; three Blackheath clubs were among the founder members of the FA in 1863; and the first rugby match between England and Wales was played here in 1881. Each April Blackheath comes to prominence as the starting point for the London Marathon.

However, the main industry on the heath in days gone by (if you discount the predations of highwaymen) was gravel extraction, which made a pretty penny for the landowner: the Lord of the Manor of Lewisham, the Earls of Dartmouth. And this is an appropriate point to start to consider those former MPs whom the winner of this by-election will tread in the footsteps of, for the first MP for a seat to bear the name “Lewisham” was William Legge, the 6th Earl of Dartmouth. A Conservative, Legge was first elected to Parliament in 1878 in an uncontested by-election for the predecessor seat of West Kent, and at this point in time he was generally known by the courtesy title of Viscount Lewisham. He had the traditional upper-class education: Eton, Christ Church Oxford, officer in the South Staffordshire Regiment; and the year before being elected to Parliament he had played first-class cricket for the MCC.

Viscount Lewisham took over the constituency that bore his name when it was created in the redistribution of 1885. He defeated the Liberal candidate Benjamin Whitworth, an outgoing MP who sought election here after his seat – Drogheda, in what’s now the Republic of Ireland – was abolished. Lewisham beat Whitworth in Lewisham by the margin of 58-42, and increased his majority to 69.5-30.5 the following year. The 1886 general election returned the Conservatives to power under Lord Salisbury, and Viscount Lewisham entered the government as Vice-Chairman of the Household. Under the rules in force then Lewisham had to get his government appointment confirmed by seeking re-election to the House, and nobody bothered to oppose him in the resulting by-election.

Viscount Lewisham succeeded to his father’s titles and entered the Lords in 1891. The resulting Lewisham by-election was held easily for the Conservatives by John Penn. Described as “one of the best-known Parliamentary golfers” with his own private course near North Berwick, Penn came from a business rather than an aristocratic background: he ran the family marine engineering firm of John Penn and Sons, although he wasn’t an engineer himself. So far, so Donald Trump. Penn easily won the 1891 by-election and the 1892 general election, and after that nobody bothered to oppose him for the 1895 and 1900 elections.

John Penn’s death in 1903 resulted in the third Lewisham by-election in as many decades. The 1903 by-election was contested, with the Liberals putting up a young Scottish barrister called James Cleland, who was a London county councillor for the borough and chairman of the LCC’s Parks and Establishment committees. Cleland, who would later serve as MP for Glasgow Bridgeton from 1906 to December 1910, and died in 1914 at the early age of 40, had the best Liberal result yet in Lewisham – 42.5% – but it wasn’t good enough to displace the Tories. Their winning candidate was Edward Coates, a stockbroker, Major in the Duke of Wellington’s Regiment and noted art collector. Coates had a long career in the seat, easily weathering the Liberal landslide of 1906; he would go on to serve as chairman of Surrey county council and be appointed baronet.

The growing population of Lewisham meant that it was divided into two seats at the 1918 redistribution. Sir Edward Coates sought re-election in Lewisham West, leaving the way clear in East for the new Conservative candidate Lt-Col Assheton Pownall. Pownall, who was elected unopposed in 1918 with the Coalition’s coupon, had come from an engineering family; he was a London county councillor for Lewisham from 1907 to 1910 and had fought Rotherhithe in the two 1910 elections. He had served in the London Regiment during the Great War, and shortly after his election to Parliament was appointed as a military OBE. With a safe seat Pownall could throw himself into the work of Parliament; he gained a reputation for hard work on committees, and was knighted for his political service in 1926.

But by this time demographic changes were hard at work. The completion of the Downham estate fundamentally changed the character of Lewisham East, making Labour competitive. Pownall had a close shave in the 1929 election which brought Labour to power for the first time, holding his seat by just 402 votes over Labour candidate John Wilmot. Wilmot stood for this seat three times before getting into Parliament by winning the 1933 Fulham East by-election; he was a minister under Attlee before ending his days in the Lords. Labour went on to put up another future MP against Pownall, Freda Corbet (Camberwell North West 1945-50, Peckham 1950-Feb 1974) who stood here in 1935.

Sir Assheton Pownall was finally swept away in the Attlee landslide of 1945, as Labour defeated the Conservatives nationally. The first non-Conservative MP for a Lewisham constituency was one of the major figures of the Labour Party: none other than the outgoing Home Secretary, Herbert Morrison. Morrison, who had transferred here after fifteen years (with broken service) as MP for Hackney South, can justifiably claim to be one of the people who had the most impact on what London has become today. In 1931, as transport minister in the Macdonald Labour government, Morrison introduced the bill which set up the nationalised London Transport; and in 1934 he took over the most powerful local government job in the UK, Leader of the London County Council. As LCC leader Morrison had effectively forced central government to pay for a replacement Waterloo Bridge, and introduced the Green Belt to put a stop to the relentless expansion of the city. We are still working through the long-term effects of those decisions, as we are with one of the more dubious parts of Morrison’s political legacy: he was the grandfather of Peter Mandelson.

Morrison had run the 1945 Labour election campaign, and in the Attlee government became Deputy Prime Minster and Leader of the Commons; other than the Green Belt, his main legacy of that period was probably the Festival of Britain and the resulting redevelopment of the South Bank of the Thames.

The 1950 redistribution awarded a third seat to the Metropolitan Borough of Lewisham, and this was effected by dividing Lewisham East into two new seats, called Lewisham South and Lewisham North. Morrison moved to the South division, based on Catford, Hither Green and the Downham estate, which promised to be safe Labour and indeed was. In 1950 he defeated a future Tory MP, Frederick Gough (Horsham, 1951-64) who had won the Military Cross for action during the landing at Taranto in 1943. Herbert Morrison retired from the Commons in 1959 and passed his seat on to Carol Johnson, who had a majority of just 3,081 in his first election – the Tory candidate he defeated was John Hunt, who went on to serve for 33 years as MP for Bromley and then Ravensbourne. In 1964 Mr Johnson had a rather more comfortable win against another future Tory MP, Barney Heyhoe (Heston and Isleworth 1970-February 1974, Brentford and Isleworth Feb 1974-1992).

Lewisham South may have been a safe Labour seat, but Lewsham North was a completely different proposition. Based on Lee, Blackheath and Lewisham itself, it was won for the Conservatives in 1950 by Sir Austin Hudson, 1st Baronet, who returned to the Commons after losing Hackney North in the Labour landslide. Sir Austen did not have a safe seat: his majorities over Labour rose from 2,491 in the 1950 election to 3,236 in the 1955 election. He died in November 1956.

Sir Austin’s widow Peggy, the dowager Lady Hudson, later employed a butler called Roy Fontaine to work on the Hudson family’s estate in Dumfriesshire. Fontaine was not who Lady Hudson had thought he was: his real name was Archibald Hall and he was a career criminal who had taken the job in order to steal Lady Hudson’s valuables. He never did carry that crime out, deciding that he liked the job and the employer too much, and that was a good thing from Lady Hudson’s point of view. Archibald Hall became one of the UK’s most notorious serial killers, committing his first murder while in Lady Hudson’s service; his five victims included the former Labour MP for Accrington Walter Scott-Elliot and Walter’s wife Dorothy.

Fortunately Sir Austin Hudson’s death was not suspicious; unfortunately for the Conservatives it forced a by-election in a marginal seat. The 1957 Lewisham North by-election was duly lost to Labour’s Niall MacDermot, who came from a legal family – his grandfather Hugh MacDermot had been Solicitor-General and Attorney-General for Ireland, and his uncle Frank MacDermot had served in the Irish Dáil and Seanad in the 1930s and 1940s. MacDermot won the by-election with a majority of 1,110 on a swing of over 5%. He failed to hold on to the by-election gain, but returned to the Commons in 1962 by winning the Derby North by-election, was a junior Treasury minister under Harold Wilson, and later served for twenty years as secretary-general of the International Commission of Jurists.

As stated, Niall MacDermot lost his seat in the Macmillan landslide of 1959. The new Tory MP for Lewisham North was only 28 but was already a household name. Chris Chataway had made his name on the athletics track as a long-distance runner: he had paced Roger Bannister to the first four-minute mile in 1954, and later that year won a silver medal in the 5,000 metres at the European Athletics Championships, before breaking the world record for that distance at a London v Moscow athletics competition at White City. That race was televised across Europe and turned Chataway into a celebrity: it almost certainly won him the title of BBC Sports Personality of 1954, the first year in which the award was made. After completing his PPE degree at Oxford, Chataway briefly went into journalism – along with a young Robin Day he was one of ITV’s first two newsreaders – and then found a niche in politics, being elected to the London County Council in 1958 as one of the three councillors for Lewisham North. The following year he was in Parliament, defeating MacDermot with a majority of 4,613.

In office Chataway campaigned for refugees and became a junior education minister; but in 1964 his majority fell to just 343 votes and he lost his seat in the Wilson landslide of 1966. That didn’t stop his political career though; the following year Chataway became leader of the Inner London Education Authority before returning to Parliament by winning the Chichester by-election in 1969. He retired from politics in October 1974, going into banking and charity work, and serving as chairman of the Civil Aviation Authority. It says something for our honours system that it was that, rather than anything else in Chataway’s varied career, which secured his knighthood.

The new Labour MP who defeated Chataway in 1966 was Roland Moyle, the son of Labour MP Arthur Moyle (Stourbridge 1945-50, Oldbury and Halesowen 1950-64). Roland was a Greenwich councillor, barrister and industrial relations consultant. He did well to hold onto Lewisham North in the 1970 election, with the Conservatives cutting his majority from 2,363 to 1,027. That was, of course, a defeat for Labour nationally which came shortly after England had been knocked out of the World Cup; and it’s noticeable that this by-election has been scheduled before Gareth Southgate’s team have had a chance to blot their copybook in this year’s tournament.

By now London’s local government had been reformed, with the Deptford and Lewisham Metropolitan Boroughs merging in 1964 to form the London Borough of Lewisham. The redistribution implemented at the February 1974 election cut the expanded Lewisham borough from four constituencies to three, and that meant a recreation of the Lewisham East constituency and the abolition of Lewisham North and Lewisham South. Although the details have changed, the Lewisham East constituency has been roughly the same ever since.

Roland Moyle won the Labour selection for the new seat, and in the February 1974 election saw off then Ealing councillor, future Tory MP (Hendon South 1987-97) and MEP (London North 1979-89) and recently re-elected Barnet councillor John Marshall by the much healthier majority of 6,306. Moyle now joined the ranks of government, serving as a junior Northern Ireland minister in the final Wilson administration and as a health minister under Callaghan. In the 1979 election Moyle narrowly defeated another future Tory MP, Humfrey Malins (Croydon North West 1983-92, Woking 1997-2010) by 1,593 votes.

That small Labour majority spelt trouble with the rise of the Liberal/SDP alliance and consequent split on the left wing of British politics. In the 1983 election in Lewisham East Moyle stood for a sixth term of office as the Labour candidate; the SDP candidate was Polly Toynbee (yes, that Polly Toynbee); and the Tories decided to emulate Chataway by selecting another candidate in their late 20s who had proven themselves at the highest levels of sport. Colin Moynihan had been elected President of the Oxford Union in 1976, ahead of a promising young woman called Benazir Bhutto, and won a Blue for boxing against Cambridge as a bantamweight, but he made his name on the water. Moynihan coxed the Oxford crew to victory in the 1977 Boat Race, and won a silver medal in the 1980 Moscow Olympics as cox to the British men’s eight. After that he became a political advisor to the Foreign Secretary, Francis Pym, and won the Conservative nomination for the 1983 election in Lewisham East. With Moyle polling 36% and Toynbee 22% the left-wing vote was split, and Moynihan’s 40% of the vote gave him the win by 1,909 votes. He increased his majority in 1987 and appropriately became minister for sport, later transferring to the Department of the Environment as junior minister responsible for renewable energy.

In 1991 Moynihan’s half-brother Antony, the 3rd Lord Moynihan, died of a heart attack in the Philippines. Antony’s complex life and family situation – at the time he was thought to have had five wives and six children – meant it was not clear who should inherit his peerage but Colin might have a claim on it. The situation hadn’t been resolved by the time of the 1992 election, in which Moynihan lost his seat to Labour by 1,095 votes as the left-wing vote split resolved itself. The House of Lords eventually decided that Antony Moynihan’s two sons should not inherit: his son by his fourth wife was ruled out by a paternity test, while his son by his fifth wife was found to be illegitimate because Antony had never properly divorced his fourth wife. That left Colin Moynihan as the heir, and in 1997 he resumed his political career from the red benches as the 4th Lord Moynihan. In 1999 Moynihan became an elected hereditary peer, and from 2005 to 2012 he was chairman of the British Olympic Association. Lord Moynihan is only 62, so we may not have heard the last of him yet.

The Labour candidate who defeated Moynihan was Bridget Prentice, a teacher who entered the Commons at the same time as her then husband, Gordon Prentice (Pendle 1992-2010). Mrs Prentice became a Labour whip in 1995 and had a long career on and off at junior ministerial level. She made the Lewisham East seat safe in 1997, and Labour have not been seriously threatened here since. Prentice saw off two future Tory MPs: Philip Hollobone (Kettering 2005-) in 1997 and James Cleverley (Braintree 2015-) in 2005.

Prentice was reprimanded by the Parliamentary standards commissioner in 2008 for misusing her communication allowance, and didn’t seek re-election in 2010. That left the way clear for Lewisham councillor and deputy mayor Heidi Alexander to win the Labour nomination and the seat. Alexander was appointed shadow health secretary by Jeremy Corbyn and ran Sadiq Khan’s campaign in the 2016 London mayoral election. She resigned from the shadow cabinet in the wake of the EU referendum result, and is leaving the Commons to work for Khan as a deputy mayor of London, with responsibility for transport. An appropriate job for a constituency where the train is the most popular way of getting to work – with the exception of the Downham estate, which is poorly served by rail and has very high bus usage. Given that some of this constituency, particularly the Catford area, is affected by the issues with the new Thameslink timetable (issues which, let me point out, are a drop in the ocean compared to the appalling shambles which is Northern Rail), Alexander has got her work cut out in her new job.

Alexander’s successor will inherit a London constituency with a typically multicultural electorate. The 2011 census picked up significant numbers of residents born in Jamaica, Nigeria, Poland and Sri Lanka; and four of the seven wards in Lewisham East – Rushey Green, Catford South, Whitefoot and Downham – are in the top 100 in England and Wales for both black and mixed-race population. Rushey Green ward, covering Catford town centre, is number 7 on the mixed-race list at 9% and number 14 on the black list at 38% – for comparison, the ward’s White British population is under 30%. Catford South ward makes the top 30 on both lists, and Whitefoot ward is also majority BAME. Both Whitefoot and Downham still have high levels of social housing reflecting their history. By contrast, Blackheath ward is the most affluent part of the seat and clearly attracts urban professionals: a majority of its workforce hold degrees, a majority of its workforce are in managerial or professional occupations, and it is in the top 100 wards in England and Wales for the 30-44 age bracket.

You don’t see much of this reflected in Lewisham East’s local election results: at least, not these days. Ten years ago the political picture was very different, with the Lib Dems being competitive in Blackheath, Lee Green and the Downham estate wards and the Tories holding council seats in Grove Park. The Coalition put paid to that, and since 2014 Labour have held every council seat in this constituency. In last month’s Lewisham council elections Labour topped the poll with 51% across the seat; the Tories were in second with 17% and the Greens third with 15%. Those Lib Dems who are talking up their chances of a good result might want to reflect that they were fourth across the constituency only last month, with over half of their local election vote coming out of Blackheath and Lee Green wards. Going back slightly further to 2016, Alexander’s new employer Sadiq Khan carried this constituency in the London Mayoral election with 54% to 23% for the Conservatives; in the London Members ballot Labour led with 50%, to 17% for the Conservatives and 10% for the Green Party. These figures don’t include postal votes which were not broken down to ward level, but the picture with postal votes included is unlikely to be significantly different.

Those figures suggest that Labour should not have much to worry about in holding this by-election. The 2017 general election result gives further cause for optimism: Alexander got a 6% swing in her favour to defeat the Conservative candidate by 68% to 23%, with no other candidates saving their deposit.

So with little realistic possibility of a seat loss here, the Westminster and media circle appears to have indulged in their favourite, if interminable, game of seeing this by-election through the prism of the two great Westminster imponderables of our time: the future of Brexit and the future of Jeremy Corbyn. The Labour selection has therefore been closely watched through that filter. It produced Janet Daby, who since 2010 has been a Lewisham councillor for Whitefoot ward (on the Downham estate). She is the deputy to Lewisham’s elected mayor, Damian Egan; has previously worked in social care; and is the director of a project tackling food poverty on the Downham estate.

The Conservative candidate is Ross Archer, who comes hotfoot from the 2018 Lewisham mayoral election in which he was a rather distant runner-up; he came closer to being elected in the simultaneous Lewisham council election where he was runner-up in the Tories’ best ward in Lewisham borough, Grove Park. Archer is described as a local scout leader who works for a not-for-profit company, and his flagship policy appears to be to get Grove Park railway station transferred from Zone 4 to Zone 3 in Transport for London’s zonal pricing system. For those not familiar with London transport, this will make trips between the city centre and Grove Park cheaper.

Standing for the Lib Dems is Lucy Salek, who chairs a refugee charity and fought Southend West in the 2017 general election. The Green candidate is Rosamund Adoo-Kissi-Debrah, a schoolteacher who is campaigning on air pollution issues. UKIP have selected David Kurten, who has been a member of the London Assembly since 2016. Maureen Martin is the candidate of the evangelical Christian Peoples Alliance, which finished last here in 2015 and 2017; in May she stood for election to Lewisham council in Lee Green ward, coming last out of eleven candidates.

This being a London parliamentary by-election, there are an awful lot of other also-rans. First alphabetically is Charles Carey, an independent standing on a single issue of free, comprehensive and up-to-date access to legislation. Massimo DiMambro is standing for the UKIP splinter Democrats and Veterans Party; he was UKIP candidate for Lewisham Deptford in the 2015 general election, and contested Downham ward in the 2018 Lewisham local elections, coming last out of fifteen candidates. Sean Finch is standing for the Libertarian Party, Patrick Gray for the Radical Party, Thomas Hall for the Young People’s Party and Howling Laud Hope for the Official Monster Raving Loong Party. Possibly more serious about their candidature is Mandu Reid of the Women’s Equality Party. Completing the fourteen-strong ballot paper – and that’s already an improvement on May’s local elections, in which she messed up her nomination and wasn’t on the ballot for her home Basildon council – is Anne Marie Waters of her For Britain party, which I shall charitably describe as another UKIP splinter. Waters was the UKIP candidate for this seat in 2015, finishing in third place.

Despite the media coverage given to Lewisham East, overall this looks like one of those polls that’s strictly for the purists, with little to get excited about for the casual observer. And yet there are two local polls today which you’ve heard nothing about in the media but which look on paper far more interesting. Turn to the next section and I’ll give you the lowdown…

Lewisham council wards: Blackheath, Catford South, Downham, Grove Park, Lee Green, Rushey Green, Whitefoot
ONS Travel to Work Area: London
Postcode districts: BR1, SE3, SE6, SE9, SE10, SE12, SE13

Rosamund Adoo-Kissi-Debrah (Grn)
Ross Archer (C)
Charles Carey (Ind)
Janet Daby (Lab)
Massimo DiMambro (Democrats and Veterans Party)
Sean Finch (Libertarian Party)
Patrick Gray (Radical Party)
Thomas Hall (Young People’s Party)
Howling Laud Hope (Loony)
David Kurten (UKIP)
Maureen Martin (CPA)
Mandu Reid (Women’s Equality Party)
Lucy Salek (LD)
Anne Marie Waters (For Britain)

June 2017 result Lab 32072 C 10859 LD 2086 Grn 803 UKIP 798 Ind 355 CPA 228
May 2015 result Lab 23907 C 9574 UKIP 3886 LD 2455 Grn 2429 Lewisham People Before Profit 390 CPA 282
May 2010 result Lab 17966 LD 11750 C 9850 UKIP 771 Grn 624 EDP 426 Lewisham People Before Profit 332

LE2018: the results

Beam me up, Scotty!

Alyn & Deeside by-election preview

One by-election on Tuesday 6th February 2018:

Alyn and Deeside

National Assembly for Wales; caused by the death of Labour AM Carl Sargeant at the age of 49. Sargeant had represented Alyn and Deeside in the Assembly since 2003 and had served among the Welsh Ministers since 2007, originally as Chief Whip and latterly as Cabinet Secretary for Communities and Children. Sargeant was dismissed from that position on 3 November 2017, following unspecified allegations about his personal conduct in the febrile atmosphere of the 2017 Westminster sexual scandals. Four days later, he was found hanged at his home, and the coroner heard that he was believed to have taken his own life. He leaves behind a wife, a son and a daughter.

We are sure you appreciate the anxiety and distress being caused to our client particularly as he is yet to receive any details of the allegations that have led to the decisions taken to date by the First Minister of Wales, the Labour Party in Wales and the Labour Party head office. There is the potential requirement to interview a number of witnesses of fact and with the Christmas period intervening and the ongoing delay is both prejudicial to the preparation of our clients case but also to his physical and mental wellbeing.
- Letter from Bowden Jones Solicitors to Welsh Labour, 6 November 2017

A difficult subject to write about for the first major by-election of 2018. We heard a lot in late 2017 about #metoo, a viral internet movement which went mainstream to demonstrate the prevalence of sexual harassment. It started with Harvey Weinstein, a high-profile film producer with a host of allegations against him, and spread from there.

Politics, of course, is not immune to sex scandals; indeed, quite the reverse. #metoo has resulted in a large number of scalps in the UK political scene, rivalling that of the Major government. Michael Fallon resigned as defence secretary over his past behaviour, while just before Christmas Damian Green was effectively sacked as First Secretary of State and Theresa May's deputy over allegations of sexually harassing behaviour and viewing pornography on a House of Commons computer. Junior minister Mark Garnier admitted instructing his parliamentary assistant to buy sex toys for his wife and a constituent, and lost his job at the Department for International Trade in January's reshuffle. In Holyrood, Mark McDonald resigned as the Scottish Parliament's childcare minister over inappropriate sexual behaviour. And lest you think that I'm only picking on government ministers, Labour MPs Kelvin Hopkins and Ivan Lewis remain suspended from the party over sexual harassment allegations.

This column is not going to defend anyone who may have sexually harassed someone. But, at the same time, these are serious allegations being made against people in political employment. Those accused have the right to expect a modicum of support and a duty of care from their party at the investigation or disciplinary stage - after all, that's one of the things unions are for. Clearly, in the Carl Sargeant case, something went badly wrong.

After his death, Sargeant's family released correspondence relating to Sargeant's suspension, including the solicitors' letter quoted at the head of this column. That was written the day before Sargeant took his life, with him facing investigation by the party, and the passages relating to Sargeant's "anxiety and distress" and "physical and mental wellbeing" look chilling in retrospect. The letter also makes clear that Sargeant did not know the detail of the allegations made against him. We still don't know that: the Welsh Labour Party investigation into Sargeant wound up after his death on the principle that there's no point disciplining a dead man.

Instead we have a series of investigations, to report at a later date, into how Sargeant's sacking was handled by the First Minister of Wales, Carwyn Jones; whether news of the sacking was leaked; and into wider claims of bullying within the Labour-controlled Welsh government. It will be interesting to see what the investigations come up with, but this column suspects that the full consequences from this tragedy have yet to play out.

That's for the future, and we must now turn to Alyn and Deeside. Even seasoned UK geographers will have trouble placing this constituency on the map, for its name reflects one of the old Welsh district councils which existed from 1974 to 1996. The name refers to two rivers. The Alyn rises in the Clwydian Hills and flows south-east through Mold to reach the Dee north-east of Wrexham. The Deeside part of the name is the core of the constituency and refers to the small towns which were once located on the Dee estuary.

Once, but not any longer. The Dee Estuary west of Chester has extensively silted up over the centuries, as a visit to the so-called "seafront" at Parkgate on the Wirral will testify. To the north-west of Chester the river was diverted during the eighteenth century into an arrow-straight artificial channel, leading to extensive land reclamation (the appropriately-named Sealand community) by a series of polders. That's caused some interesting boundary issues, mainly related to the fact that the Ordnance Survey, when it originally looked at the area centuries ago, had drawn a rather arbitrary line through the mud and sandbanks which existed then to represent the border between Wales and England. Although the land has changed the line has not, resulting in some very weird electoral boundaries particularly around the Deeside Industrial Park. Despite being on the opposite side of the Dee, the Industrial Park is administratively part of the community of Connah's Quay and covered - in a pattern which makes no sense whatsoever on the ground - by several Connah's Quay-based electoral divisions. Closer to Chester, the Welsh-English border famously bisects Chester FC's Deva Stadium.

It may surprise readers to learn that Connah's Quay is actually the largest town in Flintshire by population - larger than the county town Mold, larger than Buckley, larger than Holywell. There are reasons for that. Like many of the small towns in Alyn and Deeside, Connah's Quay is an industrial centre. The gas-fired Connah's Quay power station dominates the Deeside area, overshadowing even the impressive Flintshire Bridge. A cable-stayed structure, the Flintshire Bridge may be a bit of a bridge to nowhere but does carry the A548 North Wales Coast road, connecting Connah's Quay with the Deeside Industrial Park. The industrial park is one of the major employment centres of North Wales, taking in among other things the large Shotton steelworks, a major Toyota engine plant and the head office of Iceland supermarkets. It's no surprise that three of the four Connah's Quay divisions, two of the three Shotton divisions and Queensferry make the top 100 wards in England and Wales for the ONS "lower supervisory, technical" employment classification.

But that pales in comparison with one of the most high-profile factories in the UK. The small village of Broughton is home to a large aerospace factory, established during the Second World War for bomber production and later home to such favourite aircraft of quiz league question-setters as the De Havilland Comet and Mosquito. Broughton's aircraft factory is now owned by Airbus, and assembles the wings for all Airbus aircraft including the flagship "superjumbo" A380. Final assembly of the A380 takes place in Toulouse, to which Broughton's wings are transported by sea. The Airbus factory employs 6,500 people, so it is highly important to the constituency's economy, and a recent order from Emirates Airlines for more A380s could help to secure the factory for several years to come. Even the local football club - sadly relegated from the Welsh Premier League last year - is called Airbus UK Broughton. Both Broughton divisions are in the top 100 wards in England and Wales for the ONS "lower supervisory, technical" employment classification, with Broughton South coming in at number 11.

Lying inland is the constituency's other major town, Buckley. This was another town created by the industrial revolution, with its heavy clay soil and accessible coal measures leading to pottery, mining and brickworking industries. The town's accent still has influences from the immigrants from Liverpool and Ireland who came here in the nineteenth century to staff those industries. Today the main export from Buckley is cement from a large and notably ugly cement works.

Not exactly tourist central. For many visitors to north Wales, Alyn and Deeside is somewhere you pass through to get to somewhere more exciting, like Snowdonia, the beach resorts on the north coast or even the Irish ferry from Holyhead. Most of those visitors pass along the A494 road, which runs from the end of the motorway in England to meet the A55 - the main road through North Wales - north of Buckley. It's a dream to drive from the English border all the way to the Dee crossing at Queensferry, which is very clearly the point where the improvement money ran out - the westbound carriageway loses a lane and makes a handbrake turn to the right to squeeze onto the existing Dee bridge. (For those who ignore the warnings and go straight on, I hope your vehicle likes salt water.) Between the Dee and the A55 the road runs along Aston Hill, a congested two-lane dual carriageway with poor sightlines, steep gradients, a 50mph speed limit and a bad accident record. A rebuilding plan for this section was thrown out by the Welsh Government in 2008 due to local opposition and high costs, and the latest idea to try and improve the Aston Hill road is to avoid it altogether, by building a new road from the Flintshire Bridge to the A55 - which would at least end the "bridge to nowhere" gibe.

Possibly the most famous modern person associated with the constituency is the former England footballer Michael Owen, who lived in the area and bought an entire street in Ewloe for his extended family. Owen was eligible to play for England because - like many people in this constituency - he was born at the local maternity hospital, which is over the border in Chester. Saltney in particular is a part of Chester which has spilled over into Wales, and the census shows that this is the least Welsh constituency in Wales - in terms of the proportion of people born in the country. Perhaps not surprisingly, in three of the five Welsh Assembly elections to date Alyn and Deeside has returned the lowest turnout.

It wasn't always like this: eastern Flintshire was once noted for very high electoral turnout. There has been a constituency on roughly these boundaries since 1950 when Flintshire was divided into two constituencies. The county had previously been a single constituency since 1918 when the constituency of Flint Boroughs (covering eight towns and villages only one of which, Caergwrle, was in this seat) was abolished. Appropriately for an area which included Gladstone's home at Hawarden Castle, both Flintshire and the erstwhile Flint Boroughs were continuously Liberal-held from 1852 until 1924 when the Liberal MP Thomas Henry Parry lost his seat to the Conservatives. Parry had served since winning the Flint Boroughs by-election in 1913, and during the First World War served with distinction in the Royal Welch Fusiliers. He was wounded four times in the war, once at Suvla Bay and three times at Gaza, and finished up with a DSO and the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel. As with many veterans of the Gallipoli campaign, the peninsula cast a long shadow: Parry's war wounds rendered him unable to campaign in the 1924 election.

The Liberals recovered Flintshire from Tory MP Ernest Roberts in 1929, but their new MP Frederick Llewellyn-Jones found himself on the Simonite side of the 1931 split in the Liberal Party. Although Llewellyn-Jones was easily re-elected in 1931 on the Liberal National ticket against only Labour opposition, he retook the Liberal whip in 1932 - an action which did not go down well among the Flintshire Conservatives - and retired in 1935. And that was pretty much the end of the Liberal challenge in Flintshire, as the Conservatives' Gwilym Rowlands easily gained the seat in 1935. A former Rhondda urban district councillor and son of a colliery manager, Rowlands had fought several Valleys constituencies in the 1920s elections. He served for ten years without much distinction, standing down in 1945.

The 1945 election saw a political realignment in Flintshire as Labour had a strong result in the county for the first time. Their candidate Eirene Jones was only narrowly defeated by the new Conservative candidate Nigel Birch, who had a majority of 1,039. An Old Etonian who had served on the General Staff in World War 2, ending the war with an OBE and the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel, Birch had a long parliamentary career which peaked under Eden and Macmillan when he was in the Cabinet as Air Secretary. Birch was translated to the Lords in 1970, ending his days with the title Lord Rhyl.

However, Nigel Birch now leaves our story. By 1945 the Flintshire constituency was by far the largest seat in Wales with over 93,000 electors, and the Boundary Commission divided it in two for the 1950 election. Birch sought re-election in the more Tory-inclined West Flintshire, clearing the way for Eirene White (as she now was) to win the industrial seat of East Flintshire. White had a good majority, 6,697 over the Conservatives on a turnout of 88% - an enormous figure by today's standards. A political journalist with the Manchester Evening News and the BBC before entering the Commons, White had been elected to the Labour NEC in 1947 and was one of the first female MPs for Wales.

That majority eroded over the years partly thanks to the withdrawal of the Liberals, but the high turnouts continued. In the 1959 Macmillan landslide White held onto East Flintshire by just 75 votes on a turnout of 86% - the ninth highest turnout in the UK. She increased her majority to 3,956 in the 1964 election on a turnout of 87% - the second highest turnout in the UK - and made the seat safe in the 1966 Wilson landslide, again with an 87% turnout. By now White was a junior minister in the Wilson administration, serving in the Colonial, Foreign and Welsh Offices.

Eirene White was translated to the Lords in 1970 - serving as Deputy Speaker of that chamber from 1979 to 1989 - and was replaced as MP for East Flintshire by Barry Jones, who won rather narrowly in the 1970 election before making the seat safe. Jones had served in the Royal Welch Fusiliers before becoming a teacher and president of the Flint County branch of the NUT. He had had a near-miss in the 1966 election, coming close to gaining Northwich from the Conservatives. In the two 1974 elections and 1979 he saw off a future MP - Alex Carlile, who was Liberal MP for Montgomeryshire from 1983 to 1997 and now sits in the Lords.

Jones had a scare in the 1983 Thatcher landslide - the first election under the modern name of Alyn and Deeside - when his majority fell to just 1,368 over the Conservatives. (Their candidate that year was Simon Burns, who would later serve for thirty years as MP for Chelmsford.) For most of the Kinnock leadership of Labour Jones was Shadow Welsh Secretary, although his only ministerial experience was from 1974 to 1979 when he was a junior Welsh Office minister. 1983 was Jones' last close result, and in 1997 he saw off a future Welsh Assembly member, Eleanor Burnham of the Lib Dems. That 1997 election was the first contest on the current boundaries of the Alyn and Deeside constituency, which survived the 2010 review unchanged.

Barry Jones retired in 2001 after thirty-one years' service, and now sits in the Lords as Lord Jones. He passed the Parliamentary seat on to Mark Tami who remains in situ as only the third MP for this seat since 1950. Tami had been head of policy for the Amicus union before entering Parliament, and most of his career has been spent on the Labour backbenches. Again he has had some scares - the Conservatives got within 2,919 votes in 2010 and within 3,343 in 2015. Despite speculation of a Conservative gain when the 2017 election was called amid Theresa May's huge poll leads, Tami increased his majority last June and now looks to have a seat which is safe enough: in 2017 he beat the Conservatives by 52% to 40%. At his first election in 2001 he saw off Conservative candidate Mark Isherwood, who has sat in the Welsh Assembly since 2003.

Strangely enough these close results have never been seen in the Welsh Assembly elections, in which Alyn and Deeside has been safe Labour throughout. Its first AM in 1999 was Tom Middlehurst, who handed over to Carl Sargeant in 2003. The most recent Senedd election was in 2016, when Sargeant had 46% to 21% for Mike Gibbs of the Conservatives and 17% for UKIP candidate Michelle Brown, who was elected from the North Wales UKIP list and has been
regularly courting controversy since.

The last Flintshire county elections were in May 2017, during the general election campaign. It's often the case in Wales that local elections aren't particularly helpful in clarifying the national picture, and this is true in Alyn and Deeside which at county level tends to be a battle between Labour and independent candidates. In vote terms Labour came out on top last May in the divisions making up this constituency but only narrowly: they had 43% of the vote to 41% for independents. The seat count - 22 for Labour, 13 for independents, 2 Tories and one Lib Dem - was more decisive but also reflects that Labour won five seats (in four divisions) unopposed. Since May Labour have held a by-election in Buckley Bistre West - the division which elected the Lib Dem councillor in 2017.

And so we finally come to this by-election, which is unusually being held on a Tuesday due to a Welsh Assembly rule that all vacancies should be filled within three months. Carl Sargeant died on 7 November, so today is the last possible date for the election.

Defending for Labour is Carl Sargeant's son Jack, from Connah's Quay. Just 23 years old and with a background in engineering, Jack Sargeant is seeking to continue his father's constituency work, be a voice for North Wales in the Assembly and seek justice for his father.

The Conservatives have selected Sarah Atherton. A former district nurse and social worker, Atherton lives in Gresford, near Wrexham, and sits on Gresford community council.

UKIP have decided not to nominate a candidate, ostensibly out of respect for Jack Sargeant.

Three candidates complete the ballot paper. The Plaid Cymru candidate is Carrie Harper, a Wrexham councillor. Standing for the Lib Dems is Donna Lalek, a former teacher and Broughton community councillor. Completing the ballot paper is Green Party candidate Duncan Rees, from Ruabon near Wrexham.

So that is the tragic story of the first Welsh Assembly by-election since Ynys Môn in August 2013. If Jack Sargeant successfully follows in the footsteps of his late father, he will become by far the youngest member of the Assembly - and he will also shore up the Welsh Government. Labour are short of a majority in the Assembly, holding 28 out of 60 seats plus this vacancy, and form a minority administration at Cardiff Bay in coalition with the single Liberal Democrat AM. A Labour hold in this by-election would make the Whips' task easier - but if Jack makes his first priority as an elected representative seeking justice for Carl, things could get very difficult very quickly for Carwyn Jones.

Picture of the Flintshire Bridge at sunset by Adam Tas (CC BY 2.0).

Sarah Atherton (C)
Carrie Harper (PC)
Donna Lalek (LD)
Duncan Rees (Grn)
Jack Sargeant (Lab)

June 2017 general election Lab 23315 C 18080 PC 1171 UKIP 1117 LD 1077
May 2016 result Lab 9922 C 4558 UKIP 3765 PC 1944 LD 980 Grn 527
May 2015 general election Lab 16540 C 13197 UKIP 7260 LD 1733 PC 1608 Grn 976
May 2011 result Lab 11978 C 6397 LD 1725 PC 1710 BNP 959
May 2010 general election Lab 15804 C 12885 LD 7308 PC 1549 BNP 1368 UKIP 1009
May 2007 result Lab 8196 C 4834 Ind 3241 PC 2091 C 1398 UKIP 1335
May 2005 general election Lab 17331 C 8953 LD 6174 PC 1320 UKIP 918 Forward Wales 378 Ind 215 Comm 207
May 2003 result Lab 7036 C 3533 LD 2509 PC 1160 UKIP 826
June 2001 general election Lab 18525 C 9303 LD 4585 PC 1182 Grn 881 UKIP 481 Ind 253 Comm 211
May 1999 result Lab 9772 C 3413 PC 2304 LD 1879 Ind 1333 Comm 329
May 1997 general election Lab 25955 C 9552 LD 4076 Referendum Party 1627 PC 738

What are council by-elections telling us?

TL;Dr: Recent council by-election results are telling us that the polls are pretty much spot on. By-election results to seats that were last up in 2014, 15 and 16 are now reflecting (catching up with) the changed state of public opinion in that there now exists a country where the two main parties for government are polling in the low-forties.

Over the course of the last few weeks and months we have had a boon of by-elections. Of the 79 council by-elections held since the general election, 30 have changed hands. Of that 30, thirteen have been gains made by Labour, six by the Tories, two by the Greens, three by the Liberal Democrats and the remaining six by independents and local parties.

The attention received regarding these by-elections has been unprecedented in recent months, and many a comment has been made about what these results mean for the state of what Britain thinks.

At present, the Labour and Tory gains we are seeing are simply a reflection of the general election result. Ward results, where the contests were last held in 2014, 15 and 16, are merely catching up with the changed state of Britain: a more two party country than what it once was in 2015 when Labour or the Tories were polling in the mid thirties. Now that they are both neck and neck in the forties, and with a general election result to set this shift in electoral stone rather than polling, so too should it be expected that council by-election results reflect that.

Though one ward is not entirely reflective of the entire constituency at large, and it should be said that local issues in local elections do have an impact, the recent by-election in a ward in the Weston Super Mare constituency saw Labour increase its share of the vote by 22pts on the 2015 local elections (with the absence of a popular independent candidate who took 23 per cent in 2015). This result is not too dissimilar to the general election result across the constituency, where Labour jumped 14pts.

Those attempting to make projections on local by-elections should anticipate much improved performances in the Labour vote on 2014, 15 and 16 when the party was polling in the low-to-mid-thirties.

Unless public opinion changes, we should expect further Labour gains - particularly in next year's London local elections - but note that they are indicative of little else but the validation of the general election result and the current state of the parties nationally.

For those that don't know, a council by-election is when a ward/division, featuring an electorate of on average a few thousand, has an unexpected contest caused either by the elected individual's death, resignation, disqualification or imprisonment. Our American audience will know by-elections (be they parliamentary or local) as special elections. Council by-elections can sometimes be fought with local issues taking a greater precedent than would be the case in parliamentary elections.

A note on the Sunderland Sandhill council by-election

Many a comment has been made about Sunderland’s Sandhill council by-election result from last night, about what it may or may not mean and whether it is indicative of something or nothing.

I was informed on Tuesday that the Lib Dems had been working the ward for three months, an abnormal length of campaigning for council by-election campaigns, and that it would be one of the wards keeping an eye on come Thursday night.

Ciarán Morrissey, a Liberal Democrat campaigner from the region who played a part in the campaign, said to me that he is “sceptical of narratives that say this [the Lib Dem gain] was because of Regrexit/Brexit and Jeremy Corbyn,” instead placing blame on the local council and pointing out their campaign focused on local issues rather than the national picture.

“It was just old-fashioned groundwork. Heavily targeted literature plans, lots of literature, and lots of canvassing. Our messages were clear and were being read and believed, and we put out an absolutely huge volume of Focus, blue letters, etc., including a letter from Steve’s [the candidate] nana, who lives in the ward. We canvassed every day and kept returning to doors where we’d been told where to go, and kept this intensity up until polling day, having been at it since late November.”

Is it the case that the Liberal Democrats may now regularly be outgunning their opponents in manpower and literature when it comes to council by-elections? Perhaps. It doesn’t require confidants and scientific analysis to tell you the Lib Dems regularly go over and above what other parties do in election campaigns they think they can win in.

Is it the case that the Liberal Democrats are (re)gaining support, and so, logically, gaining council seats? Yes. Our poll of polls does note an uptick in support for them, but that alone does not explain the win in Sandhills, a seat they weren’t in contention for even at their height of popularity back in the 2000s.

Does the Lib Dem win in (Leave voting) Sunderland suggest Regrexit is driving votes to a pro-EU party? Very unlikely. National polling currently does not give Regrexit much credence. The subsamples (usual caveats apply) in national polls do note, however, that the Lib Dems are taking one in five of those that voted Remain in last year’s referendum.

My impression is the Lib Dems are in the process of successfully shaking off the negative reputation attained from the coalition years. Their ability to focus on local issues in, shocker, local council by-elections and campaigning hard is paying them dividends. Nationally, they are up in the polls but not by much.

For a better, clearer picture of how national public opinion is shaping up, keep an eye on our polling averages and the coming English, Welsh and Scottish elections of May this year. More on what is up for election soon!

With thanks to those cited on the ground in the area for providing valuable information.

2016's Council By-Elections, a roundup

When it comes to council by-elections, 2016 has been unquestionably a good year for the Liberal Democrats.

There have been 317 principal authority by-elections and deferred council contests held over the course of this year. Cornwall stands out as the authority with the most number of by-elections held, at seven.

Council by-elections happen for a number of reasons. From the passing away or resignation of the incumbent to disqualification and arrest, some come with more interesting stories to tell than others.

The Lib Dems made a net gain of 29 seats for 2016, taking home 52. The Conservatives won 106, down 33. Labour, too, suffered a net loss, winning 100 but being down seven. UKIP have a net loss of three, Plaid Cymru a net gain of three and the Scottish Nationalists break even, losing four and gaining four. A smattering of independents, minor parties and local groupings net ten.

Chart: Total council by-election wins by party in 2016

The Lib Dem success came mainly at the expense of the Conservatives. Of the 32 gains made, 22 came from the Tories, five from Labour. When charting the gains by date, 24 of the 32 were made following the referendum on EU membership.

PartySeats to defendSeats heldSeats lostSeats gainedNET
Liberal Democrat2320332+29
Plaid Cymru33-3+3

Council by-election results in their bulk should not be taken with a pinch of salt or as an overruling reflection of national public opinion. It is safe to say however that a trend has developed with regards to a ‘Lib Dem fightback’ but we should be cautious about jumping to conclusions. Whether the Liberal Democrat success is down to a shift in public opinion or because the party is commendable at focusing resources on by-election campaigns is yet to be seen. Our polling model does show a slight uptick in national support for the party and of the last 10 polls, two have them in double figures.

There will be a better opportunity at drawing conclusions come May of next year where there will be council elections in England (much of the shire authorities), Scotland (all ups) and Wales (all ups).

You can find every headline result of council by-elections held during 2016 in our summary sheet here. Please direct any spotted errors or omissions to our contact page.

Edited 28/12: Article edited to account for numerical error. Conservative council by-election holds originally listed to be 87 when in fact 89.